SEJ Summit Chicago Recap



On June 23rd, I had the pleasure of attending the SEJ Summit at Navy Pier in Chicago. This one-day conference was a rapid fire output of information from well known industry leaders in the SEO world. Each of the 8 speakers utilized separate 20 minute time slots to discuss the current and future climate of search, and included three actionable takeaways we could apply to help improve our SEO and overall digital marketing strategies. I’m going to recap eight different presentations and discuss the great insights and tips I walked away with.

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Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes on Google & AMP: A Better Mobile Experience

In This Session…

We learned for the first time ever there are more searches being done on mobile devices than on desktop. This is significant because mobile web is historically slow and cluttered with advertisements which creates a less than stellar user experience. Did you know 40% of mobile users will leave a site with a load time of 3 or more seconds? That’s right, it takes just three seconds to lose a user accessing your site on a device accounting for half of all searches. To combat this problem, the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, or AMP, was born. AMP originally focused on ways for publishers to create mobile-friendly and optimized content that loads instantly everywhere but after seeing the benefits of AMP, the project is now crossing over into other verticals.

3 main takeaways from Gary’s Presentation:

  1. Focus on website speed – especially your mobile site’s.
  2. Pay attention to Google’s AMP announcements – they are extremely important and changes are happening fast!
  3. Open up communication with your developers, put AMP in the back of their minds, and start to warm them up to the idea that AMP pages will eventually become the norm.

It’s important to note that since Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes works for Google he does have a vested interest in making sure the AMP project is a success. Equally as important to note, AMP pages load up to four times faster than the average and take only about one second to load. Considering the success of the first implementers of the AMP project, this project is definitely a movement to keep your eye on and get excited about. As far as Gary’s concerned, AMP pages aren’t going anywhere soon, and are here to help “make the mobile web great again.”


Director of SEO at tronc, Carolyn Shelby: Tune Up Your SEO

In This Session…

Carolyn brought an inspiring energy to topics that experienced SEOs have been executing for years. She discussed the importance of consistent optimization and stressed the value in taking time to tune up your existing optimization with fundamental SEO principles in mind.

3 main takeaways from Carolyn’s session:

  1. Keep things simple. Have defined and refined goals as well as elegant clean code.
    • Get rid of code on the site no longer serving a purpose.. Do not be scared to say no to additional tracking options. Will one more pixel placement provide vast amounts of conversion data? Probably not. Chances are you have all the data you already need, dig deeper and analyze the data already available to you.

  2. Remember: efficient delivery is the key to speed.
    • Minimize latency and file sizes and make sure you are only delivering the parts of a site necessary for positive user experience. It’s basic, but remember to prioritize above-the-fold content; let’s be honest, we know users are lazy.

  3. Speed is the goal. Remember power to weight ratio.
    • Ask yourself, “Are all those plugins really necessary?” Don’t get caught in a speed trap with unnecessary plugins and redirects. Talk to your development team and work with them to optimize image file size and CSS delivery.

Carolyn stressed the burdens and costs associated with complex sites. Carolyn’s session slides offer a deeper look at complexity costs and SEO tune up details.


Chief Social Media Strategist at Search Engine Journal, Brent Csutoras: Big Brands on Reddit

In This Session…

Brent, an avid Redditor for over 8 years, discussed ways big brands can benefit from connecting directly to consumers on this platform.

3 main takeaways from Brent’s session:

  1. Reddit is valuable – it will take trial and error, but if you want to get the most benefit out of social, use it!
    • You can utilize the Reddit community for different reasons ranging from brand awareness to direct customer engagement. Reddit can even be used to collect feedback from focus groups and to gather inspiration for future content ideas.

  2. Cater to Reddit – do not go blindly into a Reddit campaign and hope it works. Think about what you are doing and do the research!
    • Do not assume your audience is not on Reddit. Take the time to do the research. Many marketers don’t know that the average age of a Reddit user is 35, with a median income of about $70,000.

  3. Stay engaged.
    • If you can participate in the full AMA’s, be sure to stay involved long after the campaign is over and hire the right person to manage the campaign. Staying engaged allows you to cover questions and reply to comments on the feed and continue the conversation with the audience about your brand or campaign long after it’s over.

Take a detailed look at big brand reddit success on Brent’s SEJ Summit Chicago session slides and discover ways you can mimic success.


Chief Evangelist at Searchmetrics, Jordan Koene: Surviving the Search Plateau

In this session…

Jordan’s session focused on the search plateau and tactics to get out of a traffic lull. He immediately stressed the importance of having your ducks in a row when it comes to your website. Make sure you have great content, amazing design & functionality, and have implemented fundamental SEO tactics. If you can say you have done all of these things, then you can look at your traffic plateau and ask why it isn’t growing.

3 main takeaways from Jordan’s session:

  1. Ignite your content.
    • This is not just about evolving or creating new content, it is about taking the time to understand what content is valuable and not valuable on your website. Consolidate low value content and remove dead pages or content that no longer serves your users.

  2. Expand your reach.
    • Boost traffic by identifying and reaching expanded audiences not currently on your radar, but be sure the audience is still relevant.

  3. Recycle good SEO habits.
    • Make sure to participate in improving the foundation of your site’s SEO with action items such as internal linking and focusing on pages with the highest conversions first. Expand awareness of your brand/ site/ content through onsite improvements like structured data that helps contribute to local search and technical improvements like site speed.

View Jordan’s Search Engine Summit Chicago session slides for more ways to turn your search plateau into a range.

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Media Lead at Home Depot, Erin Everhart: Psychology of Marketing

In This Session…

Erin Everhart discussed the challenges marketers face in today’s digital landscape and the best ways to use emotion to engage and connect with your customers.

3 Takeaways from Erin’s session:

  1. A linear-path-to-purchase no longer exists.
    • Marketers are no longer just competing with other brands for conversions. Customers are consuming product information from social platforms, shopping platforms, and even word of mouth. The see, click, and buy model is no longer valid in today’s world. Now, customers are researching across many platforms – social, amazon, websites – and them purchasing.

  2. Appeal to customer’s emotion over logic.
    • Be genuinely interested in your customers instead of their demographics to supply them content they want vs. what you think they want. Surprise customers with the unexpected because when consumers are pleasantly surprised, they are more likely to trust the brand and become loyal. By appealing to emotions, customers brains are forced to work faster, meaning quicker decision making.

  3. Properly market SEO to your stakeholders.
    • Make it a team effort to drive results, get people to commit, and if they say they are going to do something, hold them to it. Do not overwhelm stakeholders with data. Show how SEO has made an impact on business overall across multiple channels, not just organic. If you think you’re only responsible for the organic traffic, your thinking is flawed. Remember, SEO affects how content makes people feel; apply that same concept when sharing with shareholders.

Learn more about the psychology of marketing in Erin Everhart’s Search Engine Summit Chicago session slides.


Director of Audience Engagement at The Daily Dot, Amy Vernon: Lessons from the Newsroom: Why Search and Social Should Utilize Principles from Journalism

In This Session…

In this session Amy discussed her years in print journalism and how we can apply those same principles to both search and social media strategies.

3 main takeaways from Amy’s session:

  1. Be curious.
    • Take a step back and ask yourself, “How and what do I search for? How do I search for it on social?” Chances are, users are searching the same way that you are. Apply these concepts when you optimize or create new content. Are you searching in question format? Only using keywords? Apply the knowledge you know about yourself to your content.

  2. Give searchers what they want AND what they need.
    • Do you ever look for something, but end up finding something else that is more relevant and suited to your needs? That’s the goal with providing users what they need before they even know it. Apply the concept of 10x content to not only create content that is better than your competitors, but caters fully to your searchers’ intents.

  3. Respect your audience.
    • Amy really focused on her care of gaining the respect of the audience. You want to be known as a valuable resource and a respected information provider. With that being said, don’t be quick to brush off your website’s haters. You may not be able to accommodate all complaints, but If you are getting negative feedback, take the time to listen to what your audience is hating on. Chances are you can make improvements from there, or at least gain better insight to your audience’s preferences and perspectives.

Learn more about Amy’s love of huskies and lessons from her time in the Newsroom.


Manager of Search Strategy & Analytics at SapientNitro, Ryan Jones: The Future is Today: How Machine Learning is Changing Search

In This Session…

Still murky on what exactly machine learning entails? Well luckily, you are not alone. Think about your most recent Netflix recommendations. Those recommendations are an example of machine learning or letting the machine figure out the problem. You didn’t ask for those recommendations, but they knew you would need a new show to binge watch soon and what shows or movies you would enjoy based on your past watching history. In this session, Ryan covered the evolving climate of search – including the process of machine learning and RankBrain and how they’re affecting SEO today.

3 main takeaways from Ryan’s session:

  1. Focus on searcher intent.
  2. Don’t ask, “How do I…?” ask, “What do they…?”
    • It doesn’t matter how RankBrain works, all that matters is that the input and output of information. So as SEO’s we need to focus on what information RankBrain is getting fed including quality of content, relevance, trust, and speed!

  3. Don’t react to change, leverage it.
    • Instead of asking yourself, how do I rank for these keywords and what tricks can I use to rank higher, ask yourself what would people who search for a certain topic find useful, what are they trying to ultimately do? Then, build from there!

Take a deeper look at Ryan’s session on machine learning and RankBrain in his presentation slides. And don’t forget, RankBrain is not a ‘ranking factor,’ Google continues to say it is an important signal that contributes to results, but only because it helps understand your query and decides what is the most relevant result.


Director of Digital Marketing at Grainger, Akin Tosyali: Integrating SEO & Content Strategy to Exceed Customer Expectations

In This Session…

Akin discussed the benefits of integrating SEO and content marketing strategies to significantly improve the goals of your website.

3 Main takeaways from Akin’s session:

  1. Show how SEO can listen to customers.
    • You site’s data will tell you how customers and searchers are utilizing or under-utilizing the content you are providing to users. Ask yourself and your website, are you accurately and efficiently returning content based on what the customer wants? If not, time to execute a content audit!

  2. Quantify and prioritize content using data.
    • Execute a content audit for benchmarking data, know your site’s metrics before you start. While you are analyzing your content look for duplicate or redundant content, check how your internal and cross linking is done, and identify ways to bridge the gap.

  3. Ask for a seat at the content calendar table.
    • If you have two separate teams for SEO and content strategy, you need to work together. Akin specifically noted how successful lunch and learns went for his teams. Who doesn’t love a free lunch, right? This meeting of the minds so-to-speak, allows SEOs to familiarize themselves with content writers’ processes and provide input based on actual ranking content, what content can be developed further, or what existing content can be improved upon.

Grainger is the 11th largest eCommerce site on the web today with over 300 branches and 25,000 employees. After applying strategies combining SEO and content strategy teams outlined above the results included a 35% increase in traffic monthly based on the new article pages, a 50% better bounce rate, and a very noteworthy bump in revenue. Check out more of Akin Tosyali of Granger’s SEJ Summit Chicago session slides.


Overall the Search Engine Summit Chicago covered an array of topics related to SEO and online marketing from knowledgeable industry insiders. The 1-day conference was a great experience that allowed like-minded marketers to come together and learn about the future of SEO. After the presentations and panel discussions ended, attendees were able to mingle and discuss the evolving SEO climates from our respective industries.

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