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Sydney SEO Conference: “An Absolute Belter”

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Sydney SEO Conference: “An Absolute Belter”

I attended Sydney SEO Conference for the second time, and I’ve got to say, it’s hands-down becoming one of my favorites. Great vibe, knock-out speakers, and perhaps best of all, awesome attendees.

And it’s not just me who thinks so:

Optimising's Head of SEO, Jim Ferguson shares he had a great time at Sydney SEO Conference on LinkedIn.Optimising's Head of SEO, Jim Ferguson shares he had a great time at Sydney SEO Conference on LinkedIn.
Digital content creator, Crystal Egan describes Sydney SEO Conference as being great on LinkedIn.Digital content creator, Crystal Egan describes Sydney SEO Conference as being great on LinkedIn.

There are loads of friendly folks in SEO I’m grateful to have met through this conference. Those of us who live down under don’t often get chances to connect with each other at large events like this (at least not without an insane amount of travel).

Kudos to James Norquay and the Prosperity Media team for putting together such a great event. You’ll definitely be seeing me again next year.

The Prosperity Media team celebrating at Sydney SEO Conference.The Prosperity Media team celebrating at Sydney SEO Conference.
The Prosperity Media team celebrating at Sydney SEO Conference.

To give you a feel for the event (and hopefully persuade you to join me next year), here are my top takeaways.

Both times I’ve attended this conference, the Prosperity team has gone all out on hiring top-notch, five-star venues.

Located in the heart of Sydney, both venues have been easy to get to and are near many attractions for interstate or international travelers to enjoy.

You can also expect five-star service from the venue staff, and the food and drinks provided throughout the day exceeded my expectations. None of that undrinkable conference coffee over here.

Photos of the food and snacks served in the breaks.Photos of the food and snacks served in the breaks.
The food was also great. Apparently, the lunchtime lamb was “to die for” and I witnessed many people going back for seconds (and thirds!) Yeah, you know who you are 😉

There are also a number of great sponsors (including Ahrefs, of course) supporting the event. We shared a stack of our SEO for Beginners and White-Haired SEO children’s books with attendees:

Not to mention the after-party overlooking the harbor. It was a great place for people to let their hair down, enjoy some drinks on Prosperity Media’s tab, and get into deep and interesting conversations. Just what a girl needs to nerd out over knowledge graphs with Nik Ranger or Google’s helpful content updates with affiliate folks.

It was a fun day all around!

Attendees at Sydney SEO Conference concentrating on all the knowledge delivered.Attendees at Sydney SEO Conference concentrating on all the knowledge delivered.

Some conferences have a feel about them where you know you’ll mainly be around affiliate folks, or enterprise folks, or generalist marketers. Sydney SEO Conference wasn’t like this.

There were around 300 people at the event, and I was pleasantly surprised by the diverse range of skills and interests of the attendees. I met affiliate marketers, agency owners, in-house teams, and division heads from enterprise companies. There were also some non-SEO developers and WordPress specialists.

If you’re anything like me then chatting to other attendees in the breaks or social events after the conference is where you learn some super interesting things! It’s honestly my favorite part of going to conferences.

Photo of guests mingling during the breaks in the hotel's waiting area.Photo of guests mingling during the breaks in the hotel's waiting area.

My best SEO-related takeaway came from Georgia Tan who shared some awesome things she’s working on with her team around “digital shelf optimization” for clients like Pepsico. It’s about going beyond Google or other search engines to optimize products for specific ecommerce, marketplace, or app platforms where people shop.

I also learned some great non-SEO tips about living in Andorra and the digital-nomad residency options available. Worth checking out if you’re looking for a nomad-friendly place in Europe as your next base!

Tim Soulo presenting at Sydney SEO Conference on how to use Ahrefs for competitive intelligence.Tim Soulo presenting at Sydney SEO Conference on how to use Ahrefs for competitive intelligence.
Tim Soulo on-stage presenting about using Ahrefs for competitive intelligence.

The speaker lineup delivered knowledge bombs for each and every attendee, no matter their role or SEO experience. It wasn’t the case that only one or two speakers were the standout favorites here.

The diversity in presentation topics hit the nail on the head, and every attendee I spoke to walked away with new insights and actionable tips relevant to their role. That’s how you know a conference has nailed it with its speaker lineup.

If you’re feeling a little FOMO, not to worry; here are my favorite takeaways from each speaker that you can also walk away with.

Speaker Topic Takeaways
Jes Scholz From search to surfaces: Your guide to Google’s metamorphosis Jes made a powerful case for the seismic shift that search is on the verge of in the Gemini era. Google is moving away from using schema.org and its ~1,400 defined entities for understanding content towards Gemini’s ~175 billion parameters. As a result, Google is re-training people to stop searching with only 2-5 words and rather embrace longer, conversational, context-rich searches instead.
Jonas Grünfeld Digital PR trends for 2024 to get top results

Jonas shared three practical digital PR strategies.

  1. Prioritizing relevance over virality.
  2. Tailoring content for its purpose.
  3. Personalizing outreach in meaningful ways.

I especially loved his take on how there are two types of linkable assets: content-based, or expertise (non-content-based).

Nik Ranger Unlocking the hidden power of internal links with machine learning Nik’s talk was nerdy in the best way! She covered exactly how she uses machine learning to programmatically improve internal linking on websites. You can test out the model using the LinkBERT demo.
Sally Mills SEO automation: Getting our time back Sally shared next-level tips on how she uses AI to automate tasks like web scraping, redirect mapping, and turning keywords and intents into topical maps en masse. So many golden nuggets for making boring (yet essential) processes more efficient. Check out her free automation scripts.
James Norquay Affiliate & eCommerce SEO growth: What’s working in 2024

James’ talk consisted of rapid-fire tips for 30 minutes straight. Some of my favorites include:

  • Invest in UX if you want your affiliate site to win (and even outrank authority sites).
  • Reverse-engineer who is promoting specific affiliate offers to see how you can create better content.
  • Use BingWMT to find hidden PBNs your competitors may be using.
Ana Luna, Benjamin Cleary + Georgia Tan (Panel) Moving the Needle: Search campaigns at enterprise scale Georgia, Ana, and Ben answered questions relating to doing SEO at a mid-market or enterprise level. There were some great takeaways for in-house and enterprise folks seeking ideas on how to implement their strategies or to get buy-in from non-SEO executives.
Tim Soulo Keep your enemies close: How to do competitive intelligence with Ahrefs Tim shared practical use cases for using Ahrefs as a competitive intelligence tool, including 3 metrics, 3 actionable tips, and 3 tools including my favorite, the portfolio feature. You can use this to compare a segment of a competitor’s site to yours or track all your competitors as a batch so you get updated competitors’ stats anytime you need them.
Greg Gifford How to be a local SEO superhero Greg’s presentation was dynamic and full of local SEO hot tips. I especially loved Greg’s tip about getting links from churches, charities, and other hyper-local, trusted organizations in your area. Local links like this tie in with his advice to turn your blog into a local destination and a place that local folks turn to for content about the area, not just about your services.
Regan McGregor Trust or bust: Winning over users and bots in SEO Regan took a deep dive into all things E-E-A-T with some great examples of how to run a detailed E-E-A-T-based brand audit. My favorite tip was using Google search operators like [example.com -site:example.com] to find indexed brand mentions on sites other than your own.
Aaron Taylor The third pillar of SEO: User interactions I’m biased towards paying extra attention to all things combining SEO and UX. So Aaron’s talk on the impact of user interactions in SEO has a soft spot in my heart of SEO hearts. My top takeaways:

  • For low-competition SERPs, focus on query relevance.
  • For more difficult SERPs, prioritize content quality and consider user interactions.
  • For difficult SERPs, it’s all of the above plus your site’s authority.
Dejan Mladenovski Programmatic SEO: A winning formula for scaling growth What an energetic speaker to close off the day! I loved Dejan’s tips on making the most out of programmatic SEO. And it wasn’t about creating quasi-spam, mass-AI pages at scale. I loved his takeaways on using APIs, next-level programmatic internal links, and programmatically inserting hreflang. My #1 tip was to only consider a programmatic SEO campaign for keywords and topics with over 20,000 searches a month if you want to get a return on investment.

Final thoughts

Good vibes, fun folks, and expert speakers. What more do you need?

With some top-level speakers already secured for next year’s lineup, including Aleyda Solis, Kyle Roof, and Cyrus Shephard, I encourage you and your team to join me at Sydney SEO Conference in 2025.

See how much fun these folks are having? This could be you next year.

See you there 😉



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Google’s AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

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Google's AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

An analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries by Bartosz Góralewicz, founder of Onely, reveals the impact of Google’s AI overviews on search visibility for online retailers.

The study found that 16% of eCommerce queries now return an AI overview in search results, accounting for 13% of total search volume in this sector.

Notably, 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.

“Ranking #1-3 gives you only an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews,” Góralewicz stated.

Shift Toward “Accelerated” Product Experiences

International SEO consultant Aleyda Solis analyzed the disconnect between traditional organic ranking and inclusion in AI overviews.

According to Solis, for product-related queries, Google is prioritizing an “accelerated” approach over summarizing currently ranking pages.

She commented Góralewicz’ findings, stating:

“… rather than providing high level summaries of what’s already ranked organically below, what Google does with e-commerce is “accelerate” the experience by already showcasing what the user would get next.”

Solis explains that for queries where Google previously ranked category pages, reviews, and buying guides, it’s now bypassing this level of results with AI overviews.

Assessing AI Overview Traffic Impact

To help retailers evaluate their exposure, Solis has shared a spreadsheet that analyzes the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.

As Góralewicz notes, this could be an initial rollout, speculating that “Google will expand AI overviews for high-cost queries when enabling ads” based on data showing they are currently excluded for high cost-per-click keywords.

An in-depth report across ecommerce and publishing is expected soon from Góralewicz and Onely, with additional insights into this search trend.

Why SEJ Cares

AI overviews represent a shift in how search visibility is achieved for ecommerce websites.

With most overviews currently pulling product data from non-ranking sources, the traditional connection between organic rankings and search traffic is being disrupted.

Retailers may need to adapt their SEO strategies for this new search environment.

How This Can Benefit You

While unsettling for established brands, AI overviews create new opportunities for retailers to gain visibility without competing for the most commercially valuable keywords.

Ecommerce sites can potentially circumvent traditional ranking barriers by optimizing product data and detail pages for Google’s “accelerated” product displays.

The detailed assessment framework provided by Solis enables merchants to audit their exposure and prioritize optimization needs accordingly.


FAQ

What are the key findings from the analysis of AI overviews & ecommerce queries?

Góralewicz’s analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries found:

  • 16% of ecommerce queries now return an AI overview in the search results.
  • 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.
  • Ranking positions #1-3 only provides an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews.

These insights reveal significant shifts in how ecommerce sites need to approach search visibility.

Why are AI overviews pulling product data from non-ranking sources, and what does this mean for retailers?

Google’s AI overviews prioritize “accelerated” experiences over summarizing currently ranked pages for product-related queries.

This shift focuses on showcasing directly what users seek instead of traditional organic results.

For retailers, this means:

  • A need to optimize product pages beyond traditional SEO practices, catering to the data requirements of AI overviews.
  • Opportunities to gain visibility without necessarily holding top organic rankings.
  • Potential to bypass traditional ranking barriers by focusing on enhanced product data integration.

Retailers must adapt quickly to remain competitive in this evolving search environment.

What practical steps can retailers take to evaluate and improve their search visibility in light of AI overview disruptions?

Retailers can take several practical steps to evaluate and improve their search visibility:

  • Utilize the spreadsheet provided by Aleyda Solis to assess the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.
  • Optimize product and detail pages to align with the data and presentation style preferred by AI overviews.
  • Continuously monitor changes and updates to AI overviews, adapting strategies based on new data and trends.

These steps can help retailers navigate the impact of AI overviews and maintain or improve their search visibility.


Featured Image: Marco Lazzarini/Shutterstock



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Google’s AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

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Google's AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

Google’s rollout of AI-generated overviews in US search results is taking a disastrous turn, with mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, BBC, and CNBC reporting on numerous inaccuracies and bizarre responses.

On social media, users are sharing endless examples of the feature’s nonsensical and sometimes dangerous output.

From recommending non-toxic glue on pizza to suggesting that eating rocks provides nutritional benefits, the blunders would be amusing if they weren’t so alarming.

Mainstream Media Coverage

As reported by The New York Times, Google’s AI overviews struggle with basic facts, claiming that Barack Obama was the first Muslim president of the United States and stating that Andrew Jackson graduated from college in 2005.

These errors undermine trust in Google’s search engine, which more than two billion people rely on for authoritative information worldwide.

Manual Removal & System Refinements

As reported by The Verge, Google is now scrambling to remove the bizarre AI-generated responses and improve its systems manually.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that the company is taking “swift action” to remove problematic responses and using the examples to refine its AI overview feature.

Google’s Rush To AI Integration

The flawed rollout of AI overviews isn’t an isolated incident for Google.

As CNBC notes in its report, Google made several missteps in a rush to integrate AI into its products.

In February, Google was forced to pause its Gemini chatbot after it generated inaccurate images of historical figures and refused to depict white people in most instances.

Before that, the company’s Bard chatbot faced ridicule for sharing incorrect information about outer space, leading to a $100 billion drop in Google’s market value.

Despite these setbacks, industry experts cited by The New York Times suggest that Google has little choice but to continue advancing AI integration to remain competitive.

However, the challenges of taming large language models, which ingest false information and satirical posts, are now more apparent.

The Debate Over AI In Search

The controversy surrounding AI overviews adds fuel to the debate over the risks and limitations of AI.

While the technology holds potential, these missteps remind everyone that more testing is needed before unleashing it on the public.

The BBC notes that Google’s rivals face similar backlash over their attempts to cram more AI tools into their consumer-facing products.

The UK’s data watchdog is investigating Microsoft after it announced a feature that would take continuous screenshots of users’ online activity.

At the same time, actress Scarlett Johansson criticized OpenAI for using a voice likened to her own without permission.

What This Means For Websites & SEO Professionals

Mainstream media coverage of Google’s erroneous AI overviews brings the issue of declining search quality to public attention.

As the company works to address inaccuracies, the incident serves as a cautionary tale for the entire industry.

Important takeaway: Prioritize responsible use of AI technology to ensure the benefits outweigh its risks.



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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

A keynote at Google’s Marketing Live event showed a new AI-powered visual search results that feature advertisements that engage users within the context of an AI-Assisted search, blurring the line between AI-generated search results and advertisements.

Google Lens is a truly helpful app but it becomes unconventional where it blurs the line between an assistant helping users and being led to a shopping cart. This new way of engaging potential customers with AI is so far out there that the presenter doesn’t even call it advertising, he doesn’t even use the word.

Visual Search Traffic Opportunity?

Google’s Group Product Manager Sylvanus Bent, begins the presentation with an overview of the next version of Google Lens visual search that will be useful for surfacing information and for help finding where to buy them.

Sylvanus explained how it will be an opportunity for websites to receive traffic from this new way to search.

“…whether you’re snapping a photo with lens or circling to search something on your social feed, visual search unlocks new ways to explore whatever catches your eye, and we recently announced a newly redesigned results page for Visual search.

Soon, instead of just visual matches, you’ll see a wide range of results, from images to video, web links, and facts about the knowledge graph. It gets people the helpful information they need and creates new opportunities for sites to be discovered.”

It’s hard to say whether or not this will bring search traffic to websites and what the quality of that traffic will be. Will they stick around to read an article? Will they engage with a product review?

Visual Search Results

Sylvanus shares a hypothetical example of someone at an airport baggage claim who falls in like with someone else’s bag. He explains that all the person needs to do is snap a photo of the luggage bag and Google Lens will take them directly to shopping options.

He explains:

“No words, no problem. Just open Lens, take a quick picture and immediately you’ll see options to purchase.

And for the first time, shopping ads will appear at the very top of the results on linked searches, where a business can offer what a consumer is looking for.

This will help them easily purchase something that catches their eye.”

These are image-heavy shopping ads at the top of the search results and as annoying as that may be it’s nowhere near the “next level” advertising that is coming to Google’s search ads where Google presents a paid promotion within the context of an AI Assistant.

Interactive Search Shopping

Sylvanus next describes an AI-powered form advertising that happens directly within search. But he doesn’t call it advertising. He doesn’t even use the word advertising. He suggests this new form of AI search experience is more than offer, saying that, “it’s an experience.”

He’s right to not use the word advertisement because what he describes goes far beyond advertising and blurs the boundaries between search and advertising within the context of AI-powered suggestions, paid suggestions.

Sylvanus explains how this new form of shopping experience works:

“And next, imagine a world where every search ad is more than an offer. It’s an experience. It’s a new way for you to engage more directly with your customers. And we’re exploring search ads with AI powered recommendations across different verticals. So I want to show you an example that’s going live soon and you’ll see even more when we get to shopping.”

He uses the example of someone who needs to store their furniture for a few months and who turns to Google to find short term storage. What he describes is a query for local short term storage that turns into a “dynamic ad experience” that leads the searcher into throwing packing supplies into their shopping cart.

He narrated how it works:

“You search for short term storage and you see an ad for extra space storage. Now you can click into a new dynamic ad experience.

You can select and upload photos of the different rooms in your house, showing how much furniture you have, and then extra space storage with help from Google, AI generates a description of all your belongings for you to verify. You get a recommendation for the right size and type of storage unit and even how much packing supplies you need to get the job done. Then you just go to the website to complete the transaction.

And this is taking the definition of a helpful ad to the next level. It does everything but physically pick up your stuff and move it, and that is cool.”

Step 1: Search For Short Term Storage

1716722762 15 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows an advertisement that when clicked takes the user to what looks like an AI-assisted search but is really an interactive advertisement.

Step 2: Upload Photos For “AI Assistance”

1716722762 242 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above image is a screenshot of an advertisement that is presented in the context of AI-assisted search.  Masking an advertisement within a different context is the same principal behind an advertorial where an advertisement is hidden in the form of an article. The phrases “Let AI do the heavy lifting” and “AI-powered recommendations” create the context of AI-search that masks the true context of an advertisement.

Step 3: Images Chosen For Uploading

1716722762 187 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows how a user uploads an image to the AI-powered advertisement within the context of an AI-powered search app.

The Word “App” Masks That This Is An Ad

Screenshot of interactive advertisement for that identifies itself as an app with the words

Above is a screenshot of how a user uploads a photo to the AI-powered interactive advertisement within the context of a visual search engine, using the word “app” to further the illusion that the user is interacting with an app and not an advertisement.

Upload Process Masks The Advertising Context

Screenshot of interactive advertisement that uses the context of an AI Assistant to mask that this is an advertisement

The phrase “Generative AI is experimental” contributes to the illusion that this is an AI-assisted search.

Step 4: Upload Confirmation

1716722762 395 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

In step 4 the “app” advertisement is for confirming that the AI correctly identified the furniture that needs to be put into storage.

Step 5: AI “Recommendations”

1716722762 588 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows “AI recommendations” that look like search results.

The Recommendations Are Ad Units

1716722762 751 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Those recommendations are actually ad units that when clicked takes the user to the “Extra Space Storage” shopping website.

Step 6: Searcher Visits Advertiser Website

1716722762 929 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Blurring The Boundaries

What the Google keynote speaker describes is the integration of paid product suggestions into an AI assisted search. This kind of advertising is so far out there that the Googler doesn’t even call it advertising and rightfully so because what this does is blur the line between AI assisted search and advertising. At what point does a helpful AI search become just a platform for using AI to offer paid suggestions?

Watch The Keynote At The 32 Minute Mark

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

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