Three Breakout Themes from MozCon 2021

Thank you Seer MozCon 2021 Team for contributing to this recap: Leena Chen, Ismaeel Elkhateeb, Chase Freezman, Sara Janae Niemiec, and Katelyn Sidley.

1) Communicating & Presenting Value to Non SEOs 

Relevant Sessions:

  • Build for Search: Modern Web Dev That Puts SEO First | Dana DiTomaso
  • Reporting for Duty: Why You Start Using GA4 TODAY | Brie Anderson
  • Taking Charge of Your Indexability: How to Optimize and Prioritize Your Technical Work | Areej AbuAli

Main Points:

  • How to speak with Devs
  • How to speak with CEOs
  • How to use more than just tables + excel (like pie charts, tables, etc)

Dana Di’Tomaso hit home when she said “SEO is no longer a garnish, it’s a main dish”. The industry has seen a real up-tick in the interest around SEO from stakeholders of a company. With great power comes great responsibility, and our ability as SEOs to communicate value and impact to key stakeholders as well as developers is more important than ever. 

Speaking to the C Suite

Gone are the days where excel tables are sufficient to communicate value quickly, although tables can be helpful for organizing sets of data, we can not tell a quick and effective story with rows of data alone. It’s time to show a clear road to revenue! 

Let’s be honest, non SEOs don’t care about the amount of 404 errors on your site, they care about how many users and how much potential revenue they are losing from those pages. Areej AbuAli dives into different methods to attribute indexability by template type to revenue and session level metrics. 

Additionally, using visuals that tell a quick and powerful story paired with non SEO specific metrics like conversions, leads, revenue, etc to communicate value much more effectively. Explaining these non SEO specific metrics as they relate to an SEO campaign is essential for getting buy in from a C-Suite. It’s time to show once and for all why SEO deserves a seat at the big kids table.  

Speaking to Developers

Additionally, the Developer and SEO relationship plays an important role. Because let’s be honest, a lack of developer buy-in or resources = no implementation = sad SEOs. 

it’s important to communicate the value of an SEO initiative to the C-Suite and have the development team buy into and understand what you are trying to accomplish and in what phase of the development process SEO should come in (hint – ASAP). It’s so important not to underestimate the relationship between SEOs and developers. Sometimes it can start out a little rocky. 

But it doesn’t have to, Dana Di’Tomaso dove into different project methodologies during her presentation and gave tips and tricks on how to make sure that SEOs are understanding the development process along with some tools that can help SEO plug into the development pipeline especially during a website migration more easily.  Learn your developers project management tools and methodologies and format tickets in an insights in ways developers can understand. And get SEO a seat at the table early – especially with website redesigns! 

  1. Stop: Presenting data in tables and rows upon rows of data alone 
  2. Start: Using pie charts, and strong visuals to display impact
  3. Stop: Speaking in languages non SEOs don’t understand
  4. Start: Attributing and communicating the impact of SEO initiatives with metrics everyone can understand (Revenue, Leads, etc) 


2) Quality > Quantity in all Facets of Digital Marketing

Relevant Sessions: 

  • The Ultimate How-To: Faceted Navigation SEO | Luke Carthy
  • Internationalization Errors: How to Go Global Without Losing All Of Your Traffic | Jackie Chu
  • Taking Charge of Your Indexability: How to Optimize and Prioritize Your Technical Work | Areej AbuAli

Main Points: 

  • Pruning or refreshing existing content
  • Personalized PR outreach
  • Focus on volume leads from broad irrelevant terms
  • Focus on specific country targets for international SEO

A common theme throughout many of these presentations was quantity over quality, we’ve seen this theme pop up over the last few years, but we are seeing this apply to more than just content, this applies to all areas of digital marketing including international strategy, determining which site sections or templates to leave indexable and create and PR focused outreach.

Luke Carthy, Jackie Chu, and Areej Abuali dive into how to optimize SEO with a more specific, precision,based approach. This includes refining existing content, staying focused when expanding for international SEO, and getting the most out of your crawl budget by avoiding bloat and indexing only those pages that offer value. 

There are 3 ways to get the quality you need in all facets of digital marketing:

  1. Faceted Navigation
  2. Good International SEO
  3. Improving Indexability by Prioritizing Tech SEO

Faceted Navigation

Faceted Navigation allows users to specify exactly what they’re looking for. This is accomplished with the use of specific filters to help narrow down the needs of the user and filter through a large inventory. As you may have guessed, this must be a nightmare for indexing, and it is. Faceted navigation can create bloat — in the form of hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of low value URLs. Instead of indexing everything on your site, determine which facets and filters drive  sessions and which could drive sessions with an adequate amount of monthly search volume. 

If we index every single facet and filter, we are using up an extremely large amount of our allotted crawl budget on pages that will NEVER rank or drive conversions. 

Luke walks us through how to tackle this problem and avoid creating a high volume of low value URLs by first understanding the taxonomy of your website. In general, filters should only be used to add granularity to categories that shouldn’t be split down any further. This helps avoid overlap in categories. For example: 

  • Bad example: birthday cards > gender > men, women
  • Good example: birthday cards > men, women

In the “good” example above, we remove unnecessary filters as “Gender” on it’s own as an additional filter is redundant.

When deciding whether to index a filter or facet, look to keyword opportunities within SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool and Google Analytics to look for filters and facets that users are actually looking for. 

When using filter permutations, avoid having multiple options from the same filter group; otherwise, it creates index bloat. Remember, we are focused on quality! Real pages that are relevant in the serp for real searches will real search volume. 

  • Good example: Fit > slim, skinny straight (slim is indexed)
  • Bad example: Fit > slim, skinny, straight (slim & skinny is indexed) –> we would avoid this since this is not a logical query that people will search for and contribute to index bloat. 

Typically, it’s recommended to allow a maximum of two parameter options to be indexed, Depending on the vertical, more detail might be beneficial.

  • For instance, 21st Birthday Card | For Dad is recommended whereas 21st Birthday Card | For Dad | Red is not. 

Pro Tips:

  1. See what parameters are frequently excluded in GSC to find patterns in behavior
  2. Use the GSC API 
    • Tool: Search analytics for Google Sheets is a great add-on for accessing the GSC API without code
  3. Automate SEO for faceted nav 
    • Tool: for enterprise-level sites

International SEO

Expanding your reach for an international audience can be daunting, especially when trying to optimize for SEO in multiple languages and regions. While optimizing for international SEO can really extend your reach globally, creating multi-language pages can contribute to index bloat and waste crawl budget on low quality pages. We want to focus on quality pages and languages where our users are actually coming from or potential markets we really want to target. 

If a site has 5000 pages and each page is translated into 10 languages, we now have 10 times the previous amount of pages as before. This means that google has 10 times the amount of crawl budget and resources to crawl, understand and index your site. Before creating dozens of language and country targeting variations, consider narrowing in on the quality of that content to international audiences and how many real users you have coming from that country or language.  

Here are a few steps to avoid internationalization errors and ensure proper implementation of global SEO:

  1. Create unique URLs for each different country and/or language versions of your website content. 
  2. Implement hreflang between pages 
  3. Localize on-page content based on the region: 
    1. Images should reflect the locality
    2. Social media buttons should link to language-appropriate accounts 
    3. Internal linking should only lead to other pages within the local site

Implementation of Hreflang is one of the most important steps in SEO internationalization; however, if implemented incorrectly, it can cause confusion for Google bots when they index those pages. 

Some general tips to make sure your internationalization is more quality than quantity: 

  • Not having unique URLs for content, i.e. no differentiation. Googlebot comes from the US 99.99% of the time. This means if the Googlebot is outside the US it is likely a fake bot and your data is “dirty”. 
  • Using 4 letter language codes. Instead of using “fr” for France, sites may engage in micro optimization such as optimizing for French Canadian speakers. This can create cannibalization issues and adds little value. Google will not see this as drastically different enough to rank them differently. 
  • Creating duplicate content that is not differentiating enough from other content. This can be detected when Google ignores your canonical in Search Console or with a screaming frog crawl. 

Improving Indexability by Prioritizing Tech SEO

In this segment we learned about how much influence we actually have in the way Google indexes a site and we learn to find the fine line between indexing bloat and not indexing enough. It’s important to prioritize recommendations that will actually have an impact on the site. Although this largely applies to e-commerce websites, the same philosophy can apply to other sites as well.

Remember earlier when we talked about all these different filters and how it can cause major bloat? Well, the same applies here. 

Think of these three questions when wondering whether or not you should index every page:

  1. Will Google bother crawling?
  2. Will Google bother indexing?
  3. Do you even want to rank for …
    • Every possible geo-location?
    • Every possible filter combination?
    • Every possible car listing page?
    • Every possible car history information page?


Google will likely not index all those pages and will reduce actual pages of value in ranking if it attempts to do so. 

Instead, you should identify certain key factors when determining which pages to index. For example, identifying high-priority KPIs, and pinpointing the conversions measured. Tying KPIs like organic leads and revenue directly to indexed pages helps create a 1:1 relationship between the pages you want Google to index and pages your users will find most valuable and want to see. 

Ask yourself these 4 questions when compiling your page indexation data:

  1. Do they take up lots of crawl budget? 
  2. Do they rank for important terms? 
  3. Do they have unique content? 
  4. Do they have high quality backlinks? 


3) Leave Bias at Home & Learn New Ways of Thinking 

Relevant Sessions: 

  • The Cold Hard Truth about CTR and Other Common Metrics | Britney Muller
  • The 3 Most Important Search Marketing Tools…Your Heart, Your Brain, & Your [Small] Ego | Wil Reynolds

Main Points: 

  • Keep an open mind
  • Check your ego at the door
  • Always stay in rookie mode
  • Know the scope of your own ignorance

Wil encourages us to rely on Intellectual Humility to challenge our preconceived notions and look for better ways. 

“Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition.”– David Dunning, an expert on human blind spots

So how exactly does one go about seeking alternative ways they aren’t used to exploring?

Start by listening to those who say, “There might be a better way.” It shouldn’t matter their tenure at your company or previous experience. Keep an open mind and check your ego at the door. Always stay in rookie mode. Ignorance is not knowing the scope of your own ignorance. 

  • Example: It’s possible for a page to rank on page 1 without the keyword in the title tag

Best practices are always a great starting point, but data is the best way to tell people where they should be investing their money. Data > Best Practices!

Tools are the start, but never the end. So how do you add value to the data derived from these tools? Reports that don’t have dollar signs in them don’t get on real decision makers’ desks. 

Social proof bias: 

  • People don’t say what they actually feel in marketing surveys
  • People put who they really are into Google
  • People put who they want people to think they are into Facebook 

If you shrink your data down to your tech capacities, you run the risk of missing small opportunities that add up and those are opportunities that someone else can see. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and learn something new!

To wrap up an amazing second day of the conference, Britney Muller talked about CTR and other common metrics we can encounter in our day to day.

First, she gave us a little insight about spurious relationships – “when two ore more variables or events are associated but not causally related”, and binary bias – “The human tendency to seek clarity and closure by simplifying complex continuums into two categories”.

The main point she was driving home is that deep forces are behind our resistance to rethinking. Sometimes changing our thinking makes the world more unpredictable, can require us to admit that facts can change, and it can threaten our identity.

Britney challenged us from the beginning to rethink our data, and be okay if we are wrong. Specifically, she mentioned that we should think like a scientist, and find joy in being wrong, because it can bring us closer to the truth.

You might be wondering, Okay, I need to apply a new method of thinking… But what do I need to think about?

Well. That is the great thing about SEO! As our industry is constantly changing, we can rethink everything including CTR, time on page, bounce rate and more! If we don’t take the time to investigate and question our data sets, we might remain in the same loop bringing the same insights to our team or clients.

There are a few examples we can review in understanding how to think differently. Traditionally you might think that the bounce rate increase is horrible! But what if you own a restaurant, and people are bouncing because they found your phone number? What if you noticed that more traffic isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes that increased traffic can affect overall performance if it is not qualified.

Leaning into learning culture, Britney left us with a few things to consider:

  • What leads you to that assumption?
  • What might happen if it’s wrong?
  • What are the uncertainties of the analysis?

Overall, Britney drove home that it is okay to fail, and encouraged us to dig into more problems in order to find the truth. Start with these Google Code Lab resources she encouraged everyone to try out for themselves:

In Conclusion

We had a great time attending MozCon 2021 virtually this year, and can’t wait to see how some of these themes continue to play out throughout the digital marketing and search industry in years to come! 

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Source:, originally published on 2021-08-10 11:28:39