BrightonSEO April 2019 – Event Recap – Part 2

Sam Marsden
Sam Marsden

On 15th April 2019 • 44 min read

Friday’s BrightonSEO demonstrated yet again why it is the UK’s premier search conference. Massive credit goes to Kelvin and the Rough Agenda team for putting on a superbly organised event with outstanding speakers and 4,000 attendees. It was also great to see BrightonSEO furthering its forward-thinking reputation with the addition of a meditation session and onsite creche. It’s these extras that continue take it above and beyond the majority of events in our industry.

With so much happening over the course of BrightonSEO it’s easy to miss some of the exceptional talks that take place, and we can’t even imagine the bouts of FOMO that must be experienced by those who weren’t lucky enough to attend. That’s why we’ve written a multi-part recap featuring some of the best talks, including videos, slides and all of the key takeaways. If you haven’t done so already, you can find the first part of our event recap here and our recap of the John Mueller Q&A will be published later this week. Enjoy!


Izzi Smith – Driving *meaningful* clicks with enriched SERPs

Talk Summary

With Google’s growing use of on-SERP features and an increase in no-click searches, it’s more important than ever to focus on building richer search experiences that not only drive more clicks but also more meaningful visits that uplift your user engagements and train the RankBrain AI in your favour. Izzi’s talk taught us you how to identify CTR and engagement problems, and gave us actionable advice on effective and scalable Search Appearance optimization.

Key Takeaways

SERP features are content enrichments shown directly in the SERPs. These features can be shown more frequently for queries where searcher intent is ambiguous e.g. searching using the query “cake”.

Are SERP features bad for my SEO?

Like everything in SEO, it depends. Rand’s keynote at the last BrightonSEO painted a terrifying picture of search, with 72% of mobile searches and 34% of desktop searches not resulting in a click due to these in-SERP features. With this increased competition for less clicks, Izzi wanted to take us through some things we need to consider in order to win clicks and continue to drive organic traffic. Izzi recommended focusing on the following areas:

CTR as a ranking factor

In an Ask Me Anything with Gary Illyes, Gary said that UX signals like dwell time, CTR and Rand Fishkin’s latest theory are generally made-up crap. However, there is Google documentation that says that when you click a link in the SERPs they will consider this when they rank that result in the future. This led to a lot of debate, but we shouldn’t read too much into these arguments because Google wouldn’t tell us if it was a ranking factor anyway, it would be heavily manipulated, it isn’t a reliable signal and a click doesn’t always result in user satisfaction. Izzi believes that even if CTR isn’t a ranking factor you still need to work on improving it.

What is satisfaction?

An SEO’s job is about bringing relevant users to your site to fulfill a purpose, and isn’t just about ranking well. Don’t increase CTR for the sake of it, focus on driving meaningful clicks from people that want to be on your site. SERP features can help drive more meaningful clicks. For example, a guacamole recipe can include rich results including calories, rating and time to cook which helps ensure that that website is going to receive more relevant clicks and fewer bounces.

Searcher intents

Izzi broke down search queries into their different intents:

With such a variety of intents, Izzi stressed the point that we need to identify them based on SERP features and not just keywords. We then need to use that research to optimise our strategies.

Optimising for searcher intent

Izzi gave some top tips for optimising for different searcher intents:

  1. Types of searcher intent don’t always live in these neat categories, sometimes they overlap so we need to combine intents e.g. transactional research.
  2. Stop wasting time on no click queries and avoid queries that have pure answer intent. You can do this by checking if the intent of a query is met directly on the SERP.
  3. Mid and long tail queries are even more important than they were before so focus your efforts here.
  4. Aim to rank above the fold.
  5. Be present and proud in local intent SERPs. Google shows local map packs if it decides there is local intent, which doesn’t necessarily include geo-modifiers.
  6. Understand how Search Console classifies positions because sometimes a lower position may be better if it is an in-SERP feature as shown in the slide below.

Izzi has found that URL traffic and revenue at SIXT has increased significantly when they get into the local map packs.

Focus on the following when trying to get into local map packs:

Optimising for featured snippets

Izzi recommends looking at the following to optimise your pages for featured snippets:

Izzi recommends going after featured snippets particularly because, while rich results get higher CTRs when they are in position 1, featured snippets have a higher CTR when the organic result is in a lower position.

Izzi finished off with some final “do it now” takeaways to round off her talk:



Emily Potter – Featured Snippets – the achievable SERP feature?

Talk Summary

SERP features are increasingly overtaking the search landscape, stealing traffic from content providers. The featured snippet, however, is one that we still have a level of control over. Emily’s talk revealed data on the impact of featured snippets on CTRs to give evidence for why we should care about them, and gave us tips on how to win them.

Key Takeaways

Emily was tasked with winning featured snippets when she joined Distilled. Rather than being a simple task, it quickly turned into a quest to become the master of featured snippets. However, this didn’t really happen and Emily has ended up hating featured snippets.

What is a featured snippet?

A featured snippet is a SERP feature that appears at the top of some search results with an answer to a query. Searchers like them because they answer questions quickly and some SEOs like them because of the brand awareness and the possibility of getting position zero.

Winning featured snippets – Attempt #1

Emily went about researching featured snippets, so she went to STAT and got a list of keywords that their client ranked for with featured snippets. Emily then recommended which queries she thought that client could win featured snippets for. The recommendations included:

Unfortunately, the results of this work weren’t seen because Google had an update which removed the featured snippets for every query Emily had put in a recommendation for. A difficult lesson was learned: Google is the enemy.

Winning featured snippets – Attempt #2

A second opportunity came about with a different client and, this time, Emily took the approach of focusing more on competitors. What is the current owner of a featured snippet doing that their client wasn’t? Are they answering the query better? What format are they using? Are they using headings better? After 35 hours of work, they tried the oldest SEO trick in the book and copied a competitor’s H1 and that worked. After much tiredness and frustration, Emily concluded featured snippets are bullshit and here’s why:

Proving featured snippets are overrated

Existing studies into featured snippets are misleading because they used relative rather than absolute figures to report changes, misleading headlines and there was no experimental control. At this point, Emily decided to conduct her own research and prove that featured snippets are overrated.

The hypothesis was that featured snippets do not have a significant impact on CTRs. Data was pulled from STAT, looking at keyword data across clients and instances where featured snippets were and weren’t owned, as well as looking at base rankings. This was combined with CTR data and queries with >60 impressions.

The results showed that featured snippets improved CTR for every single organic position. The graph below shows average organic position (x-axis), CTR (y-axis) and blue circles show when featured snippets were owned while red showed when they weren’t owned. It’s clear to see that CTRs were higher when the featured snippet was owned.

Hubspot’s study found that for the top 5 results, backlinks and other authority signals matter much less for winning a featured snippet. However, Emily’s research found the average rank of results with a featured snippet was 2.1 compared to 3.1 for those without a featured snippet.

Also, contrary to the Hubspot study, Emily found that CTRs didn’t increase as much for each organic position when comparing results with and without featured snippets. There was roughly a 6% increase in CTR when the result had a featured snippet compared to when it didn’t, which isn’t anywhere near the 20% increase reported by Hubspot.


Emily still hates featured snippets even though her research showed they work. Here are some recommended actions to get the most out of featured snippets:


Kenichi Suzuki – A Structured Data Case Study: How to Make Your Websites Stand Out in Search

Talk Summary

Google Rich Results are so visually appealing that they can attract users’ attention in search results. Kenichi’s talk showed how we can take advantage of structured data to produce various Rich Results. Kenichi’s slides can be found in a PDF here.

Key Takeaways

Kenichi is a Google Product Expert in the Webmaster Forum and a Search Advocate for Faber Company Inc.

Structured data case studies

Kenichi started his talk by showcasing some success stories of Rich Results generated by structured data:

jobrapido structured data

These are the types of structured data for Rich Results that Kenichi covered:

Product badge Google Image search

Some experimental rich results Google is likely to roll out include how-to and FAQ Rich Results.

Google How-to Rich Result

You can find all of the types of structured data that Google currently supports in the developer docs. 30 rich results are currently available. You can also find which structured data is suitable for your site here.

Hidden benefits of structured data

The benefits of structured data aren’t only Rich Results, as these are only visual changes to search results. The real benefit of structured data is that it helps Google understand your website and content better, which can eventually get you more opportunities for higher rankings.

Kenichi recommends adding as much structured data as possible, as long as it is closely related to your business, and rounded off his talk with these key takeaways:

Kenichi Rich Results takeaways


Fili Wiese – Why I adore Sitemaps, an ex-Google engineer’s love story

Talk Summary

Fili Wiese’s informative talk covered everything you need to know about Sitemaps; from best practices, strategy, measuring success, to avoiding common pitfalls and more. Fili provided unique insights and practical hands-on tips, ideas, strategy considerations and tactics on how to take maximum advantage of Sitemaps for your website.

Key Takeaways

Sitemaps: The basics

Sitemaps are a list of indexable URLs on your website. These URLs can be gained by extracting them from a database or crawling the website itself. Sitemaps don’t manage crawl budget but they do communicate what pages are more important and should be prioritised to br crawled more frequently. Sitemaps also strengthen canonical signals to communicate a consistent preferred URL to search engines like Google.

Available sitemap formats

Sitemaps come in a variety of formats:

Some people say the indexing API will replace XML sitemaps, but Fili thinks otherwise because you can’t yet add the additional metadata like hreflang or news, or video. As such, Fili doesn’t think XML sitemaps are going away anytime soon.

Measuring success

We can measure success by structuring sitemaps in a way that they can be monitored separately e.g. ecommerce sites can separate out their category and product pages into separate sitemaps. You can then add them to Search Console and see how Google is crawling URLs in those separate sitemaps including the errors. Fili recommends filtering either by individual sitemaps or aggregated across all sitemaps to find things like pages that have been indexed but aren’t submitted in the sitemap.

Sitemap myths and misconceptions

Fili took some time to dispel some common misunderstandings around sitemaps:

XML sitemaps can be a tool for improving internal linking if there are no other options available. However, this isn’t ideal because they shouldn’t support internal linking. Your internal linking should support your XML sitemap. Every internal link you put on a website is contributing as a sitemap.

How sitemaps can solve other SEO issues

Case #1 – Canonicals

Fili was working on a site that had no canonical tags and these could not be implemented because of an inflexible custom CMS. On top of this, the site was using internal links with URLs that had tracking IDs and looked horrible in SERPs.

Luckily, Fili was able to replace tracking IDs with event tracking in Google Analytics. He also added a plain text sitemap, which meant that Google could crawl the URLs, and after sometime they were indexed without the horrible tracking IDs.

Case #2 – Speed

Sitemaps also helped Fili improve a site’s page speed, specifically for Googlebot. The site had servers in the UK to be close to their users, but in Search Console they were seeing poor stats with regards to page speed. To rectify this, Fili implemented browser caching through a custom edge server using Google Cloud in the US. Fili also set up a crawler with a cron job that ran twice a day and crawled the entire sitemap, and then cached all the pages in the sitemap locally in the US on the edge server. As a result, page speed significantly improved for Googlebot. Fili was able to do this because of sitemaps.

Case 3 – Multiple sites

In a further case, sitemaps helped Fili with multiple sites that were located in different countries across the world. This made implementing hreflang in the HTML difficult because there were too many stakeholders and priorities in a huge organisation. What Fili could do, though, was access their database and extract the canonicals, building a sitemap based on that, add hreflang annotations and upload this to a storage bucket in the cloud. This bucket was also uploaded to Search Console. These sitemaps were then added to the robots.txt. All that changed on the client’s site was one line in the robots.txt, everything else was kept under control on their side.


Razvan Gavrilas – Building an SEO Exponential Growth model by Closing Your Content Gaps

Talk Summary

Razvan’s session presented an SEO framework that can scale up rankings on an ongoing basis. He took us through a unique and powerful methodology on how to identify and secure high rankings by closing your content gaps.

Key Takeaways

Razvan is a strong believer that if we continue to make small changes we will see big results.

Keyword analysis and the content gap

People search in unexpected ways, and If we don’t do proper keyword research and analysis we won’t be able to benefit from their traffic. Common knowledge says that your competitors have content you don’t and this creates a content gap. Content gap analysis is the process of reviewing and then identifying the content opportunities needed to fill the “gap” between the current state and the desired state. The gaps can be filled by creating new content, but also by optimising existing content which is often overlooked. CognitiveSEO has been using this approach for the past 3 years and have seen some great results. Their tool has a Content Performance algorithm that tells you how well a page has been optimised on a scale of 1-100.

Differentiating keywords

Razvan put forward three metrics to differentiate keywords:

  1. Search intent – This can include informational (research), transactional (commercial), navigational (brand) and quick knowledge.
  2. Keyword link difficulty – How difficult it is to rank for a keyword, looking at links?
  3. Keyword content difficulty – How well optimised are pages ranking for a query?

The CognitiveSEO team reran some research investigating how links influence rankings following the March update. The results concluded that links to a domain have less of an influence on rankings, but links to a page and content performance matter more.

Content gap analysis framework

After demonstrating the importance of content gap analysis, Razvan shared his framework for this.



Heather Physioc – Search vs. Bureaucracy: How to Stand Up an Organic Search Program for Your Client

Talk Summary

Based on extensive research into common blockers that search professionals encounter with clients, Heather taught us how to immerse ourselves into a new client relationship, assess the client’s organisational maturity, and uncover those stumbling blocks before you hit them. Heather also shared some useful tools and techniques to prevent and overcome those obstacles so we can get real search work done. You can find Heather’s slides and other relevant resources here.

Key Takeaways

Onboarding new clients

Heather oversees PPC and SEO across 7 offices in North America for VMLY&R. Their agency has onboarded lots of clients, so Heather wanted to show us how they go about this and how to overcome common stumbling blocks.

So you signed a new client, everything is going well and then a few months in, things get weird and it’s not quite like when it started. The client might have concerns that didn’t exist to begin with like questioning your judgment, expecting results immediately, questioning their spend, etc. It feels like everything is on fire, but you don’t know why. Heather has identified 4 key mistakes that cause this scenario:

The Immersion Workshop

Heather and the team at VMLY&R hold a two day intensive face-to-face workshop when onboarding new clients. It is a crash course to understand the client quickly and open communication channels. A sample agenda of an Immersion Workshop can be found here, but a typical one covers the following:

Day 1
Day 2

Onboarding recommendations

In addition to the Immersion Workshops, Heather gave some further recommendations for the smooth onboarding of a new client:

success and failiure factors sticky notes

Diagnosing search maturity

It is important to understand a client’s search maturity as an organsiation, which is essentially an exercise in telling them that their baby’s ugly. Heather has a search maturity model which classifies clients according to how sophisticated they are when it comes to organic search: Components of the Search Maturity Model

A client’s search maturity is worked out with a survey that is sent far and wide among the client’s employees.

Search Maturity questionnaire

After you have the results you can see how mature the client is and plan out key areas of focus for the next year or two. It is important to propose actual solutions with clear ownership and share the results with the client because it can help uncover deeper problems.

Organisational search maturity


Laura Hogan – Retaining Struggling Clients: How To Rebuild Trust

Talk Summary

Everyone makes mistakes, but it doesn’t need to cost you a client. Honesty works. Laura took us through the reasons why clients leave and how to go about retaining them.

Key Takeaways

Average client life cycles

Laura wanted to know what the average client lifecycle is in search. This is important to know because people’s livelihoods are impacted by the length of time they can keep a client on their books. Typically people say 18 months is a normal client lifespan, but Laura saw that the results for a Twitter poll that she put out were far from conclusive.

Results were fairly evenly split between six months, one year, and 18 months. A small percentage even said three months, which definitely suggests something is going wrong.

Why do clients leave?

With the poll results indicating quite a low client lifespan, Laura looked into the reasons why clients leave:

What can we do better?

Now that we know why clients leave, Laura took us through what we can do to increase the chance that clients will stick around for the longer term:


This way for more recaps

A massive thanks again to everyone involved in making BrightonSEO such a roaring success. If you haven’t had enough of the talks, you can find more of the key takeaways in the first part of our recap here. We’ll also be publishing a recap of the John Mueller Q&A later in the week, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for that.


Sam Marsden
Sam Marsden

Sam Marsden is Deepcrawl's Former SEO & Content Manager. Sam speaks regularly at marketing conferences, like SMX and BrightonSEO, and is a contributor to industry publications such as Search Engine Journal and State of Digital.



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