SMX West 2014 Review: A Digital Analyst’s Perspective

Back in February, the SwellPath team attended a SEMpdx event to cheer on our teammate, Mike Arnesen who was co-presenting with Will Hattman on Advanced Markup for Semantic SEO and Social Media. Typically there is a drawing of some sort for tickets to another SEM related event, and on this particular night, it was an All-Access Pass to SMX West in San Jose. That lucky winner happened to be me. While my background is in SEO, my current position at SwellPath is very analytics focused, so when I got the email saying I was winning a free pass to SMX, my immediate thought, was “Maybe someone else from our SEO and PPC team should be going instead.” But – then I realized, that maybe this conference could provide another angle for me to consider when thinking about analytics, and how to assess and provide recommendations on Search and PPC related traffic for our clients. So off I went to SMX.


For those of you who haven’t been to an SMX event, you need to go. It’s three packed days of sessions, keynotes and enough information to make your head spin off. It is fantastic. For me conferences allow me to get out of the office and clear my head. The day-to-day grind sometimes makes it hard to step back and think big picture, or just simply look into new recommended tactics, news, and in general staying on top of all the changes that come flying our way. Conferences give you access to actionable tactics you can take back and implement, case studies and success stories that you can use to help back an idea for a client, and in general get you up to speed on what is going on in online marketing today.

So if you didn’t make it to SMX West this year, here are the highlights from my trip!

Day One

I must say, day one was my favorite (sorry in advance if you presented on day two or three). They offered a track called Digital Marketing Summit, which was focused on big picture/big topic discussions instead of getting into the weeds with actionable takeaways like most of the presentations are geared towards. For me, this hit home. There was so much that I got out of day one, that I have to condense this into bullet points in order to share all these little nuggets of info.

  • We are on the shift of what it means to be a media company. Big picture – a media first approach to marketing is not only where it is going, but also what works.
  • Educate, engage and entertain your audience first, then make an offer for your services, or your software. Getting their trust and attention first is key.
  • Brands need to become media strategists.
  • Mobile is everywhere – really playing into Big Data.
  • Big Data will change the way analytics is done forever.
  • New paradigm of mobile marketing is all about leveraging constant streams of data from all devices and giving it monetary value:
    1. Understanding It
    2. Mining It
    3. Merging It
    4. Sharing It
    5. Selling It
  • Successful Ongoing Analytics:
    1. Meets a strategic business need.
    2. Explain the analytics in a way business (non-technical) can understand.
    3. Demonstrate ROI. Stronger results than tribal knowledge and worth the investment in dollars to build analysis.
  • Tips for communicating Analysis:
    1. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. Think about it from their side and what are the struggles they are having.
    2. Run your presentation past a non-technical supporter. You should only take 2 minutes to explain your methodology.
    3. Create proof points for your techniques.
  • Any business’ decision making going on today should use data to back it.
  • Users are more sophisticated today than every before. 90% of research respondents use multiple screens sequentially to accomplish a task over time. 98% move between devices that same day.
  • Smartphones are the most common starting place for online activities. 65% started on a mobile device, then 60% move to a desktop – 40% complete on a tablet. Desktop are better starting points for more complex activities.
  • 50% of companies say that there is not enough focus on basic attribution.
  • Sequential screening conversions can be easily disrupted and you need to have your campaigns tailored to this type of activity.
  • Those who aren’t building brands will struggle a lot in the future. It’s not about the tactical anymore; it’s about building the brand experience.

Thanks to Natalie Kortum, Cindy Krum, Steve Beatty, Brian Clark and Rand Fishkin for those wonderful takeaways above.

Danny Sullivan Amit Singhal InterviewThe keynote at the end of day one consisted of an interview led by Danny Sullivan with Google’s Search Chief, Amit Singhal. These interviews are always so entertaining because it is a battle of trying to pull information out of Amit, and his clever ways of avoiding the direct question, and giving just enough information that leaves you wanting more. The large focus of this interview was around Hummingbird…obviously. Here are some key takeaways from this interview.

  • The mobile revolution has forced Google to re-think how to deliver search results.
  • Hummingbird is all about understanding long tail queries and natural conversation queries.
  • The future of Google is built around Hummingbird.
  • This new algorithm was built so that Google can understand the query and this has been a huge push forward in search.
  • The rules about links have changed. The ranking system over time has become complex, over 200 ranking signals are in place and it is continuing to grow.
  • Links are an important signal, but at the end of the day Google is looking at the holistic picture of a site and how the experience was for the user.
  • Currently they are not using social signals as a ranking factor. As they continue to test this, they may become a signal, but for right now they are not.
  • When you are logged in, +1’s play a huge part in rankings, when you are logged out, they don’t.
  • Knowledge Graph is there if you need it, but doesn’t mean you don’t need all the other search results. The goal here is not to take away from users clicking on search results, but just provide a more robust search experience.
  • Good SEO is all about change, and smart SEOs will not fight change.

Day Two

My main focus during day 2, and the content that resonated best with me was the shift to mobile. Google provided some awesome presentations, one of which was a top favorite for me: Don’t Miss the Shift: Capturing & Converting Multi-Screen Consumers. The three main pieces of advice that were given were:

Be there for constantly connected customers. No matter what device they are using, you need to be able to accommodate them. It is also important to understand the needs of your users as they bounce from one device to the next. Users’ needs on a desktop are going to be different than their needs on mobile device.

  • Understand how customers currently interact with your site.
  • Adapt your value proposition to customer needs.
  • Study examples across and beyond your industry.
  • Don’t forget about analytics.
  • Evaluate which implementation option works best for you.

Be Relevant. Use Contextual signals to customize ad messaging and features. Also think about customer context like location, time of day and craft relevant ads and experiences for them.

Be Optimized. Measure, measure, measure. Identify and measure all conversions to account for the full value of mobile.

Day Three

The last day was all about Hummingbird. The big take away for me was being able to understand the impact that Hummingbird had on search queries. The release of this new algorithm impacted over 90% of all search queries. When you think about how many search queries happen each day (over 1 billion) on Google, this was a MAJOR change. Hummingbird is centered on relevancy. Google needed a way to serve the search demands of today, and their first attempt to move in this direction was the release of knowledge graph. Providing answers to questions and conversational search by truly understanding what you were asking or looking for was the main goal in this re-creation of the algorithm.

google hummingbirdI think the big takeaway for search marketers here was that, if your content is well written and good quality, you really shouldn’t have to do too much to adjust to this new algorithm. What you do need to be doing is paying attention to the long tail strategies – which isn’t any different than before, but this is now more important than ever. Also pay attention to the query refinement suggestions that Google is providing. This is another avenue to do some keyword research for those long tail keywords.

All in all, it always comes back to quality content, and if you have it – then you’re probably ok.

Great conference and I look forward to attending – or better yet, possibly presenting in the years to come!

Jules Woodward

Jules Woodward - Analytics & Optimization Strategist

Jules comes with background in both Web Analytics and SEO and truly has a passion for all things digital. Her career in Digital Marketing started with Local SEO at a management consulting firm that focused on growing SMBs businesses. From there she moved to an agency in the Portland area where she grew her Analytics and SEO knowledge and skills, and has now landed at SwellPath where she works with clients to analyze and distill actionable recommendations to improve website performance. When she's not at work you'll find her hiking around Portland with her dog, fishing and boating in Central Oregon, or cheering on her Oregon Ducks football team. Jules loves the outdoors, travel adventures, and a good IPA.

One Response to “SMX West 2014 Review: A Digital Analyst’s Perspective”

  1. SearchCap: The Day In Search, March 24, 2014

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