Several BuzzShifters went to Las Vegas for Pubcon 2013. They haven’t all disclosed exactly what they did while in Vegas, but they did bring back some useful insights from the conference itself.
Here Michael, Mark, and Will share some of their thoughts about the value of Pubcon, and what they gained from the experience.
From Michael Stancil, Director of Search:
Pubcon, it’s definitely one of those conferences you HAVE to go to at least once in your life if you’re in the search/content industry, there’s just so much to learn. This is my second year that I’ve gone to Pubcon Vegas, and I can say with 100% assurance that I’ll definitely be back next year!
My first year was more about taking in the entire Pubcon experience, and trying to go to as many relevant sessions as possible within the confines of a day. Additionally, Pubcon is a great time to actually hear all of the well-known industry bloggers….speak.
While I learned a lot last year, this year was all about being more targeted, and going to the sessions that really mattered to what I do, or had curiosities about. Luckily, I was able to go to a session for every available slot on each day, so I’d consider that a win. As for my focus this year? Paid Search, Display Advertising, and SEO Audits; pretty focused, I’d say.
Did it work? Did I learn something? Indeed I did. The biggest thing is with SEO, while there are “over-arching” principles, everyone has a little bit different way of doing things. Learning from those and adding them to your own skill set, especially when it comes to SEO audits, translates to better results for your clients—which means happy clients, and subsequently a happy agency. With regards to paid search and display, Brad Geddes is a walking AdWords information mine, and I’ve never left one of his sessions without learning something new.
My verdict? Another successful year, especially given the fact that I’m still digesting what I learned, and it’s been a week since I’ve been back. The best part is that you get the presentation decks, and as long as you paid attention in the session, it’s a great resource after the fact! So if you’re on the fence about a search conference to go to, Pubcon should definitely be that conference, in addition to the State of Search conference in Dallas, because two conferences a year is good for you!
From Mark Barrera, Chief Search Officer:
As always, I enjoyed my time at Pubcon. This year definitely had a different feel with the vast changes coming from Google over the last 12 months. The good news is that these changes have allowed us SEOs to focus on the real things that matter in marketing. Content, brand building, and staying away from ‘search engine trickery’ are all things that were emphasized, and rightfully so. For so long SEOs have been able to game the system, but now it all comes down to the assets you produce and how you promote them.
From Will Edmonson, Search Analyst:
Pubcon was my first search marketing conference (I’ve been to SXSWi but that covers a broader spectrum), and I found it both refreshing and inspiring to meet with people who do the same kind of work as I do on a daily basis, and more importantly, run into the same struggles and problems that search marketing can bring. For example, take WordPress itself. If there isn’t one already, there could be a whole conference about WordPress and how to do SEO on that platform. But at Pubcon I was able to attend two talks centered solely around using WordPress, and not on a basic level, but from experts who had a lot to offer concerning ways to improve how I use the platform. Anyway, I digress.
Here are a few insights from the conference:
- With Penguin rolling through, search marketing is starting to scoot closer to content marketing. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise for anyone.
- Link building will have to become more personal, more diplomatic with other websites (read: harder work but hey, it’ll be less monotonous), and less focused on directories. Again, no surprise.
- Google will rank higher personal profiles and content from people it knows as real people. This means author profiles, rel=author tags, etc. The days of internet anonymity are over. Create a personal brand and a content matrix of topics around your name. You’re a brand interacting with other brands now.
- In-house SEOs live a much different life than agency SEOs. The challenges are different and those two kinds of SEOs need to be aware of what it’s like doing search marketing in those environments to better communicate and work together.
- If you’re an SEO who hasn’t gone to a conference, you need to convince your boss that you need to go. It’ll keep you sharp and inspire you to grow in areas where you might have blind spots, and it’ll help you get on board future trends.
- Vegas is a special place. Don’t plan on getting a lot of sleep or doing a lot of outdoorsy stuff while you’re there. Also, if you’re an introvert, this may not be the best town for you.
Five insights should be plenty. Best of luck, SEOs.
Up next: State of Search, on Monday, November 18 right here in Dallas. If you’re there, check out both Mark and Michael’s presentations.
Here’s a quick quiz for brand marketers:
1. What is bounce rate and has it risen or decreased on your homepage over the past two years?
2. How does Google Analytics know when a visitor has exited a page?
3. What are the top referral sites to your homepage?
4. What pages are visitors viewing immediately after they visit your homepage?
5. What are the most visited pages on your website and what’s the dominant referral site to those pages?
All this can be found in a 10 minute browsing session in Google Analytics. Though that’s only if you know Google Analytics. A common default response from a brand marketer might be, “Well, we just ask the SEO agency we’re working with for that data.” And of course, that’s an acceptable routine, but are there any advantages for brand marketers that aren’t necessarily SEOs to knowing how to find this information and assess it yourself?
Quick note: having an SEO agency do deep analysis and reporting on your web traffic is indispensable if you’re serious about gathering data, developing strategies that work, and implementing them. The questions and skills listed above are basics in the SEO industry and even more basic to check the data on them. This is all different than implementation and strategy, which is a different set of skills that SEOs will and should be better at than brand marketers.
Google Analytics is one of the easiest to use, most common, and least expensive (it’s free) tools for web analytics tracking. It’s fairly easy to install and it’s quick to show you results and data that are valuable to brands. And what’s even more valuable is that Google offers a certification for using Google Analytics called the GAIQ test, so you can verify competency for yourself or agencies you’re working with.
The question for brand marketers is, at the end of the day, why should they care to know about Google Analytics and get certified?
You can learn more about your brand. It’s as easy as getting user access into the GA program on your website, which should already be there if you have an SEO already tracking it. And all the items on the quiz above could potentially be checking in less than 10 minutes if you know what you’re doing in Google Analytics.
It’s in the best interest of a brand to know what people are doing when they interact with your online presence. Are they clicking on your about page? Do they like to watch videos? What’s the most preferred way of contacting you? Does anyone read your blog? Did traffic increase to your site after that rebrand you did last year was implemented?
The online presence of your brand can and should be watched closely and having the brand marketers’ eyes on that data can be very valuable to growing your online presence.
You can learn more about your customers. A wealth of demographic data is readily available on GA. You can answer questions like where your primary audience lives, in rural areas or the city. Are customers visiting your site via mobile devices? Which kind of mobile device? If there’s a rise in mobile traffic over the past year, is your site ideally set to be browsed on a mobile device?
These questions are basic but very important and with a intermediate competency in GA, and brand marketers can dig deep and know what the customer is doing and has been doing over the past three years.
Like the item above, what people are doing around your brand. A vast amount of data is available with a click and with a few hours of study and a few weeks of experience with it, you’ll have that information close to you.
This isn’t a move to supersede or make your web analytics team obsolete, it’s a move to get your eyes on that data as it’s coming in and able to navigate it with a decent knowledge of what’s going on. Used properly, this can be a boon for your brand.
It creates trust between you, your clients, and other agencies because you have Google’s blessing. Let’s face it. There aren’t many ways (compared to industries like medicine, law, and academia) to know if an SEO is competent outside of experience and case studies (which I admit aren’t bad). Digital marketing and more specifically SEO, has not caught on as a major field of study in most colleges across the country. So how can a client, yourself, or another agency know that you are competent with Google Analytics and at least knowledgable in the basics of SEO?
The GA certification is a step in that direction.
The most widely used search engine on the web has given you a blessing which says to others you are competent with this tool, and believe us when we say that competency with Google Analytics is a big step in gaining SEO knowledge, especially on the data/analysis side of it.
You can verify the data your SEO agency is giving you. There’s potential to cause tension between the experts and non-experts (for lack of a better way of putting it) when the non-experts get into a field they’re largely unfamiliar with; something in the vein of “a little bit of learning is a dangerous thing.”
With that in mind, don’t try to step on toes or do a job that isn’t yours as the brand marketer.
However, with that said, you can have knowledge enough about SEO and web analytics to keep your agency accountable. This can lead to better analysis and decisions on implementing strategies in the future. At its best, your knowledge of analytics can help you understand the terms and data points you see in reports, and to dig deeper from there if you so wish.
And let’s be honest, there are times when you’re listening to your SEO guy and he drops a term you’ve never heard and you don’t want to ask what it is out of time constraints or looking incompetent so you nod along. Well, those days can be over. At the very least getting GA certified brings a wealth of confidence when you have those hard conversations about data on your website and where to go from there. It becomes a conversation rather than a report, and your brand will only benefit when that’s the case.
With that said, if you’re ready to make the move to become Google Analytics certified, we provide a strategy with tips on how to pass GAIQ test on this blog.
If you are a brand, an ad agency, or a PR firm that needs help with deciphering Google Analytics or installing it across all your (or your clients’) web assets, give us a shout. We’d love to help.
iTunes entered the market in 2003 with the idea that people will actually pay for music after getting it for free through Napster and Kazaa. As many remember, a flood of free downloadable music poured into our computers, safe or not, and it turned into an early gold rush of pirated content before people really even thought there was something wrong with it. iTunes came in that aftermath of that stampede and surprisingly it worked and people trusted it more than streaming from an unknown computer, and they paid for it.
Anyone over 18 at the publishing of this post has probably used iTunes before, and even more so knows how to use it to meet their needs. But how many of those users have ever studied the program or could claim to know almost all there is to know about it power and capability? Probably less than 10%.
Google Analytics is deceptively similar. It came onto the scene as a high powered, reliable, free, and deeply integrated tool to measure more than just the basics of website traffic and other search metrics. You can use it without reading and in depth manual and there are valuable results that pop out immediately, making a tutorial seemingly pointless. The problem is the easy to find stats can be distracting you from deeper stats and analysis. The unfortunate consequence of this is that there are probably tons of people out there using the program yet are operating nowhere near its potential.
The misconception then is that all because a person has used it, even for years, it doesn’t mean that they could pass a test measuring proficiency in the tool. You used iTunes for years to do what you needed it to do. This is the usual approach to technology. It’s almost like 20-50% of a program’s capabilities will be ignored. This is fine if the user wants to keep it casual or has just one use for a program, and if that’s how you use GA, then I don’t suggest studying or taking the test. It’s not worth your time.
This leads me to the first point about this test: know if it’s worth your time and the effort required.
If you use GA for only measuring traffic, such as counting one or two metrics, then you don’t need to take the test. Setting up campaigns and events is not on your radar and that’s fine. You don’t need to dig much deeper and take the test.
This leads me to my first bit of advice which will seem obvious:
Install Google Analytics and use it. I say this to rule out the possibility of never really using the program and pulling answers from a tutorial to pass. For one thing, I don’t think you’ll pass and for another, why do you really want to get certified in the first place? If it’s to get the certification to make yourself or your company more marketable and competitive, then your problem isn’t your lack of certification, it’s that you’re selling Website Analysis without ever using one of the most popular tools on the market. You’ve been warned. Don’t give SEOs a bad name by pulling this stunt. Take the time to learn the basics of our trade, you’ll benefit more in the long run and you’ll definitely give a better service to your clients.
How much experience do you need before you could be comfortable with it? I’d say multiple uses with varying purposes using a diverse set of tasks on GA would be a solid base. If you don’t have clients yet, then try it on your own site and give yourself small goals and tasks to complete.
Don’t learn only the dashboard, get to know the engine. See what I did there? A deep knowledge of how Google works, how it crawls, when it crawls, and how Google Analytics integrates with the search engine and how it works on your site is necessary to passing the test. Put it this way, if you don’t know the difference between first party and third party cookies and which category GA falls into then you need to develop this area of knowledge.
You need a developed website you’re tracking. This is somehwhat easy but what’s really needed is a good set of data dating back at least three months and with campaigns and event tracking enabled. I’m talking the works.
Study tutorials about Google Analytics. Luckily, they exist and in high quality. Here’s a quick scan of necessary places you need to visit to study outside of Google Analytics:
Those three will do. Cover each as many times as you need to get a grasp on what GA is about. The presentations Google provides are obviously a must-see, but personally I rate them as the least interesting out of that list. The presentations seem awkward and rushed. You’ll have to stop at certain slides and definitely take notes. The disadvantage of that one over the others is that they’re hard to search once you’re in them. The Slingshot questions as well as the Jens Sorensen tutorial is searchable.
*Note. Avoid going to this website as a resource: http://www.googleanalyticstest.com. I found the test to be long, exhausting, boring, out of date, and buggy. If you want to cover a lot of ground and practice your skills, you’ll spend 5 hours going through all the questions that are way more difficult than the test itself. I only experienced a hit in my morale when I took it and it broke halfway through.
You don’t have to know the information, just know where it is….mostly. One advantage of the GAIQ test is that you can pause the test at any time. Use this to your advantage. And by that I mean know where to find answers that you’re unclear on. The test is open book so play into that. However, do not lean too much on this aspect of the test. You’re more likely to pass it if you have a more intrinsic understanding of GA rather than merely knowing information about it.
What tabs should you quick reference? Here are a few must haves for the occasion:
Once you have all of that in place, you should be ready to go.
I want to reiterate at the end of this post the need for both experience with GA and intensive study to pass. If you’re green with GA and have studied the tutorials a lot, I would highly encourage you to spend more time with it and play around with aspects of it to give you an idea of what it can do. If you’ve been using GA for a while but haven’t studied, don’t think you can go in there an wing it without expanding your knowledge. The test will pull from areas you haven’t used before.
Also some minor points to keep in mind about the test itself:
- 90 minutes. You can pause at any time though you have to complete the test in 72 hours.
- 70 questions. Multiple choice and true/false.
- Must score an 80% or higher to pass.
- Open book test.
- It must be completed within 72 hours of beginning it.
- You can go back to certain questions at the end that you marked for review while taking the test.
- Certification lasts 18 months.
- You are knighted by Google and can move on to getting your company to the status of certified partner, among other things. That’s for another post later on.
- $50 per test taking session.