November 6, 2015

On the Brink: Conductor C3 2015 Retrospective

Author on far left, unironically making that face.

Author on far left, unironically making that face

This past week, I was honored/humbled/fortunate enough to be asked to co-host a breakout session at the Conductor C3 conference in New York. It was a lovely experience; the conference was beautifully executed, I had a great time on the panel, and pretty much everyone they brought in to speak was equal parts informative and intimidatingly intelligent.

My panel, though, was a power hour of 50 tangible actions to help improve your SEO. Access Conductor’s presentation here! 

From the rest of the conference, though, there were so many great takeaways and tidbits of information that I don’t know where to begin, so you’ll have to forgive my stream-of-consciousness recap of the two days:

My Thoughts About C3                                                             

  • It’s easy to forget how much the industry has changed and evolved, and continues to do so. Examples are everywhere; just look at this infographic that Google just put out on the 15th anniversary of AdWords. Or what about Conductor itself? Ostensibly, it’s a tool for monitoring the ranking of keywords. Nobody talked about keywords this year at C3, though. Sure, that data is important, but only in the context of informing your content. Which, as we know, is all that matters.
  • I know that this is one of my more hypocritical sentences, but I’m really sick of hearing that “content is king and context is queen.” Let’s find ourselves a new colloquialism.
  • SEO as a job description is no longer exclusively technical. Sure, there are a lot of technical aspects of SEO still (shout out to meta descriptions!), but once all of that’s in place, it’s time to move on to strategy. A true SEO strategist nowadays is someone who needs to be providing insight to all members of the content team: developers, social media managers, content producers, and even (sometimes especially) the branding team. It’s really a product management role, I guess.
  • I don’t remember the name of the caterer, but they were worth every penny that Conductor paid them. Those chocolate fudge brownie/biscuit hybrids were everything to me. Life changing.

Recurring Themes of C3 2015                                              

  • Insight. There wasn’t a single panel that didn’t talk about insight. Probably because that’s the chief value of Conductor Searchlight as a tool provides. But also because that’s really the role that SEOs have to play (see above).
  • There’s plenty of opportunity for content at the top of the funnel. This makes sense – it’s where content is most often answering a question and filling a need, verses being strictly informational or transactional.
  • The funnel is everywhere. It’s important to simplify it. Stop thinking of Awareness, Consideration, Conversion. Start thinking of See, Think, Do. Does your website have content that matches each of those for your end user? If not, that’s your starting point for your content pipeline.
  • Speaking of the funnel, the industry is trying to rebrand it as the “User’s Journey.” It makes sense, if you think about it. The content that resonates with users the most tells a story – if you can contextualize your content by the story, or journey, of your user, you’ll knock it out of the park. Easier said than done, though.

My Takeaways from C3 2015                                             

  • SEO is hard. It was so much easier when it was just keywords – it was entirely quantifiable. Check the boxes, have the keywords, and you’re good to go. It’s not like that any more. I feel bad for small business that either can’t afford SEO services, or don’t even know what they are.
  • There’s a difference between usability and relevance. IE, relevant content might not be useful. For example, you could search “flooring ideas” into Google and get an ecommerce page selling your flooring tiles. That’s relevant to “flooring ideas,” but it’s not useful for your intent. Conversely, you can Google Image Search the same query, and get scores of pictures of different types of floors, giving you ideas for your own project. Consciously thinking about usability in your content production informs both the terms that matter to you, as well as what media (IE, blog post, video, infographic, etc) should be in your content pipeline.
  • We’ve known this for a while, but if you’re just using search volume data to guide your website’s optimizations, you’re doing it wrong. You should absolutely look at other sources to inform media, usability, funnel, etc. Third party analytics and insight tools like Conductor Searchlight are more valuable than ever (though this was their conference, so if this wasn’t a takeaway of mine, they would have failed miserably).
  • You can summarily dismiss anyone who claims to be an expert in digital. This stuff is crazy complimented and inter-connected. I’ve been doing this for a while, and I like to think of myself as competent, but I learned a ton over those two days (much more than I was expecting to). It just means that digital marketers and agencies can’t sit on their laurels – we have to be constantly educating ourselves.
  • Most of the examples or case studies that were being cited involved enterprise-level ecommerce websites. This makes sense since those are the easiest to close the loop from awareness to conversion. However, their tangible takeaways don’t always translate to smaller businesses with offline conversions – for whom digital efforts are just as important, but impossible to close the loop. This, to me, is all the more argument for offline-converting businesses to work with agencies that have this kind of experience.

All told, if SEO is in your job description, or if your website is the life-blood of your business, you should seriously consider attending C3 next year. It’s hard to imagine a more informative two days; every moment was filled with great content marketing insight, and the Taco Bar they set up on day two put Chipotle to shame.