Held in San Jose, California, SMX West is a 3-day event jam packed with the latest Search buzz. With a total of 7 conferences held throughout the year, the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) is a leading event for SEO and SEM professionals and this year’s SMX West certainly didn’t disappoint!

You don’t have to be an expert to know that search is constantly changing.

With change comes different obstacles and tactics to try. SMX West not only provided the most buzz-worthy topics, but also opened the door to tactics that work, things that don’t, what to expect and how to approach changes in our industry.

Here’s our recap of key SEO insights from leading industry experts at the 3-day conference.

Voice Search and Virtual Assistants

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information. Enter Jason Douglas the PM Director for Actions at Google. He was the keynote speaker and kicked off SMX West with a session about the Google Assistant, a virtual assistant developed by Google.

SMX recap blog
Image from Search Engine Land

Because people speak conversationally, virtual assistant and voice search tactics need to be more natural.

“Google Assistant is a conversational experience between you and Google to help you get things done in your world,” said Douglas “There with you on the go, everywhere you are.”

It’s not just about understanding words; these new ways of searching are about the context and intent behind the search.

With the rise of artificial intelligence, AI is driving a new reality. Devices are getting smarter with proactive suggestions. These virtual assistants take data from Schema and present it in a nicer format.

That’s why structured data and Schema markup is more important than ever.

In a session called, Optimizing Content For Voice Search & Virtual Assistants, the panel discussed different ways to approach this new reality.

– Understand types of queries affected

– Optimize for facts and info for featured snippets that are commercial in nature and have no best answer

– Rank for featured snippets

– Understand what questions are out there and write the best answer that is useful for the searcher. Put the question in the header tag and separate the answer by a paragraph. This will grab the attention of searchers and search engines alike

– Use the right blended of promotional and information messaging in featured snippets

– Put inventory on Google Express and claim your business in Google My Business

– Create and promote actions on Google

– Produce great content – find out what people are saying on platforms like Trip Advisor, Yelp, Amazon Reviews etc.

– Provide answers to questions

SMX blog recap
Image from SMX conference

Mobile First-Index and Mobile Friendly

The mobile first-index experiment was announced late last year on Google’s Webmasters Blog. Because most people searching on Google are using a mobile device, Google wants to ensure results are more useful. This new way of search will primarily look at the mobile version of your website for ranking signals.

During the session, SEO For Google’s Mobile First-Index & Mobile-Friendly World,” Gary Illyes of Google confirmed the mobile-first index is still in the experiment phase so “don’t freak out” as he put it. Clients and web developers still have time to move towards a mobile-first experience.

“The team behind the mobile-first index wants it to launch this year,” Illyes said. “We’re still experimenting. We don’t have a timeline. It could be a few months or quarters, but it’s definitely not weeks [away]. Don’t freak out, especially if you have a responsive site.”

If you have content and markup equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything.

A Few Recommendations for Websites to Ensure Mobile Friendliness:

– Responsive sites are golden!

– Make sure to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version

– Keep resources crawlable

– Ensure your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot

– Add your mobile version to Google Search Console (if applicable)

– Canonicals will not be affected – Google will continue to use those links as guides to serve the appropriate results

– Make your site easy for customers to navigate

– Keep technical side of site up to par – audit regularly to ensure best practices

– Speed is Key

SMX blog recap
Image from Think With Google

Structured Data and Schema Markup: So, what is structured data anyway? In layman’s terms, it “allows you to say stuff about things.” A quote straight from the conference. A constant topic of conversation throughout sessions, structured data and schema markup are becoming increasingly more important. To “future proof” your site’s SEO, Schema markup needs to be included.

Structured data not only helps search engines understand what a site is about, but it includes valuable information that can increase a site’s chance of getting in position “0” for featured snippets. Providing useful data from Schema markup can greatly improve the quality of visitors.

For ecommerce sites to stay competitive, schema markup must be a top priority, especially for product information. There are hundreds of structured data options that can be added to a site. For product level pages, there are four rich snippet additions that will likely increase CTR, user engagement and performance.

– Name

– Aggregate Rating

– Price

– Availability

Ratings are another great opportunity for ecommerce websites, especially if you’re battling comparison shopping. If your site doesn’t have this functionality, it should be a top priority to get a five-star rating system implemented. The more information you can mark up with structured data, the easier it will be for search engines to match your page with the correct search queries.

SMX blog recap
Image from Think With Google

AMP Pages: This Google-backed project was rolled out last year and has quickly become adopted by a variety of brands and search engines. Accelerated Mobile Pages are essentially a stripped-down form of HTML that allows for faster load times on mobile searches. While there is currently no ranking benefit from implementing AMP framework, these pages do provide a better and faster user experience.

Jeffrey Preston, Senior Manager, SEO, The Walt Disney Company, noted some of the lessons his team learned from implementing AMP pages on non-news content:

– Ad impressions varied on AMP vs. mobile base placement

– Traffic shifted from mobile web to AMP

– Didn’t experience any ranking boost or traffic gains from using AMP

– Easy to fail validation tests – constant care needs to be taken to ensure code is validated

If speed is an issue on your site, fixing that should be a top priority and AMP could be a solution.

User Intent: Gone are the days where you could keyword stuff your way to #1 in the SEPRs. Because searchers are getting smarter, the search engines must become smarter, which is why RankBrain and other AI technologies are on the rise.

For a full download of insights, check out the decks from SMX West 2017!