10 Takeaways from SEJ Summit 2017 All Inbound Marketers Should Know

by Anna Crowe | 15 MIN READ
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“Use a bigger story to convert people to your tribe or squad. #squadgoals ” Ann Handley drops knowledge into the conference room. It’s 9:30am at the Navy Pier in Chicago for SEJ Summit 2017, and things are already getting real organic (and it’s not just the free orange juice).

This year's SEJ Summit was once again filled with mic drop moments and insightful speakers.

Content could be seen as the headline topic of this year’s summit. From searcher intent and funnels to mobile optimization and the future of search, the speakers at SEJ Summit want marketers to understand how to bridge the gap of communication between search engines and the people using them (critical for developing successful inbound marketing strategies).

Besides content, there were also a few major Kodak moments from Larry Kim’s last PPC presentation, chatbots taking over, and more!

I followed the conference for Firesnap, and we’ve gathered the top 10 snippets of advice we think inbound marketers should take away from the 2017 SEJ Summit conference.

10 Things Inbound Marketers Need to Know From SEJ Summit 2017

These topics are currently (or will soon be) an everyday facet of the world of digital and inbound marketing.


The most monumental moment from the summit was when Purna Virji, Senior Training Manager at Microsoft, announced that chatbots would take the place of web browsers.

Personal human connections with consumers will no longer be needed. According to Gartner, 85% of customer relationships will be managed without human interaction by 2020. And, since chatbots don’t require a landing page in the search engines, inbound marketers will be optimizing the UX and brand personality for chatbots.


Purna believes the first step is to begin prepping our digital assistants with voice search (think Siri or Cortana), citing Gartner again with 30% of web browsing will be screen-less by 2020. Inbound marketers will transition from optimizing keywords on a website to optimizing keywords audibly for chatbots.

(If you are interested in learning more about AI and chatbots, check out Purna’s full keynote presentation.)

What this means for inbound marketers:

Search is becoming an adult. Human language is becoming a UI layer where developers and inbound marketers work together to create conversational canvases in emails, chatbots, and so much more. The possibilities are endless!

We will no longer be using keyword research to define a website, and soon we’ll be using keyword research to understand the intent and personalize chatbots for natural language. There are many cases where we can already see that a voice search query brings up a paid ad. This means companies are already optimizing for natural language.

With voice search, chatbots, and digital assistants we’re going to see the search intent become a much bigger factor.

Let’s go through that next.

Search Intent

The next big thing is optimizing for searcher intent. As Bill Hunt, Global Strategy Consultant at Back Azimuth Consulting described:

“You have to give searchers what they want, not what you want."

Nowadays, marketers have moved toward keyword clusters or grouping to map searcher intent. These groupings help marketers connect the dots between things like meta titles and image title names to search engines. It’s no longer about keyword placement in the meta titles, but more about what the searcher wants.

Here is a great example of Bill Hunt’s client, Absolut Drinks.


By optimizing the meta description for the searcher intent, Hunt was able to increase the click-through-rate from 1.69% CTR to 14.81% CTR. And, after 45 days this page went from ranking number 1 to number 3.

What this means for inbound marketers:

With the launch of Hummingbird and featured snippets, it’s clear that the search engines are trying to guide the searcher’s intent to find an answer to their question.

In many cases, I have seen website pages drop because they do not answer the “how to” or match the intent of the searcher.

As marketers continue to grow their skillset, I believe we’ll start to see more reliance on gut and experience to understand search intent versus relying on tools or software to guide content.

Holistic Marketing

With more and more channels to connect with users, artificial intelligence is going to evolve the way people communicate.

Duane Forrester talks about the rise of intelligent search describing how robots are delivering food, monitoring health, and essentially, changing the way we live our lives.


The new generations want to do more with what we have than disposing of it. Our cultures and values are changing as technology changes.

Companies like Uber and Google are already investing in new technologies like the real-time mapping of locations to meet the needs of these new generations.

What this means for inbound marketers:

With the rise of AI, marketers will need to talk to consumers differently.

How do Tesla users search? How does a 21-year-old in New York City buy groceries?

Building these niche personas to match search intent is key. (Check out our Complete Guide to Creating Buyer Personas.) AI will help the new generation discover, purchase and find nearby places within multiple channels.

Marketers need to blend programs like PPC, SEO, mobile, apps, and social to communicate the same message across these different channels. Using tools like Google's Automated Insights and GTmetrix can help guide you with data.

Creating a holistic approach to marketing is the only option for future campaign success.

Featured Snippets

After Bill Hunt shared his insights on search intent, Zak Ramdani, the Great Owl SEO at HootSuite, went on to share his tactics for getting HootSuite articles listed in Featured Snippets.

If you’re not familiar with Featured Snippets, here’s a crash course:

When you type a question in Google Search, you’re sometimes gifted a block at the top of the search results. This block includes a summary of the answer for quick viewing. Featured Snippets come in 3 formats: standard, ordered, and unordered.

Here is an example of a featured snippet.


The three rules HootSuite follows for getting listed in Featured Snippets.

  1. Must rank on page 1 for keyword term already.
  2. Find out if there is a Google Answer listed in the Featured Snippet already. And, determine what format Google prefers.
  3. Structure your content to match the format Google prefers using headings to reflect the user’s questions.
What this means for inbound marketers:

If you’re using Google Home (another one of those digital assistants we mentioned above), it will read out loud what is hosted in the Featured Snippet. This is another opportunity to optimize not only in the search engines but for future AI adoption.

Featured Snippets also factor in engagement rates. Marketers will need to make sure their on-page SEO is up to par to match the intent of the searcher to increase click-through rates and time on site.


In line with Bill Hunt’s push for search intent and Purna Virji’s AI future, Jenny Halasz took a deep dive into Google Analytics for mobile SEO to make optimizing for search intent easier on mobile. Jenny’s Google Analytics dashboards caught my attention for pretty much the rest of SEJ Summit.


With these Google Analytics dashboards, you can set-up mobile segmenting by country, device, and top organic mobile pages. My inner nerd started typing fast when she started filtering using regex (regular expressions). 🤓 Thank you, Annie Cushing, for teaching me the ways of regex.

Here is the link to Jenny’s Google Analytics dashboard.

What this means for inbound marketers:

Google announced in August last year that more than 50% of search queries come from mobile. Two months later, Google announced they were moving to a mobile-first index.

For marketers, this means that whatever is hosted on your desktop website does not matter. The only thing that matters now to Google is your mobile website. This is why page speed and page performance will be key indicators of a website’s performance in search. Using this data can help you shape your mobile SEO strategy.

Also, with a mobile-first index, marketers are going to see a shift to voice search-related keyword terms. We don’t write like we talk. Voice search will force keyword research to be more personalized with search intent. This will also affect local search. Terms like “near me” and more long-tail queries will become more competitive.

HTTPS Migration

HTTPS is the wonderland where search engines and your website always place nice, hackers are never welcome, and security is top notch. (There's a reason Google Chrome started marking sites not secure without HTTPS at the beginning of this year.)

A bit of background on HTTPS:

HTTPS (also known as secure HTTP) was developed to create a more secure website that encrypts user data helping the user feel safer.

While HTTPS is designed to make users feel safe, that’s not why ESPN made the migration from HTTP to HTTPS. Patrick Kajirian, Manager of SEO for ESPN, gave an in-depth look at ESPN's strategy from prelaunch to launch. His SEO team reduced 301 redirect loops, combined subdomains, and so much more. After the switch, ESPN saw 10-15% bump in visibility.


What this means for inbound marketers:

Those who haven't changed from HTTP to HTTPS might already know about the implications and loss of traffic that can come with not migrating. But if you're not familiar, HTTPS is a ranking signal and has been since 2014. However, marketers and website managers have been a bit hesitant when it comes to migrating to HTTPS because it's technical challenges.

As I’ve learned from all the SEJ Summit presentations, it’s going to be more important for SEO marketers and developers to work together to build better experiences for the user. Plus, as Jenny Halasz described, mobile page speed is going to be pretty major for the success of your mobile site, especially if you’re not using AMP pages.

In short, HTTPS and HTTP2 can give you a little boost in page speed.

Expanded Text Ads

While I was sad to hear this would be Larry Kim’s last PPC presentation, I was excited to hear about his MobileMonkey venture. Larry Kim’s new mobile bot startup is just another sign for the direction inbound marketing is heading.

Google and Bing are trying to help advertisers get more clicks by introducing expanded text ads. By increasing the headline character count to 30 and adding an 80 character description, advertisers have more wiggle room when designing ads.

(If you're want to get Larry Kim's last PPC presentation, check it out here.)

What this means for inbound marketers:

With the flexibility of expanded text ads, marketers will begin to play around with the options. For instance, PPC marketers now have the ability to move the CTA from the headline to the site links. Moving the CTA into the site links frees up more space in the headline.

Also, tactics that may have worked in the past like dynamic keyword insertion in the headline are now placed in the URL for a better user experience.

PPC marketers are also going to begin to cross-pollinate with search engine ads and social media, — you know, creating that holistic marketing approach Duane Forrester mentioned above.

Influencer Marketing

Despite the fact that Dan Morrison, Aimclear’s Client Services Director, is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter and that he’s got seven years bearding, he’s also shared a high-five worthy strategy for reaching out to influencers.

I mean, the dude managed to fit Oprah, Dan Marino, and Jesus all on one slide for his presentation.


The most useful tactic from Dan was his combination of content for PR and SEO (again, with the holistic marketing approach.) Dan shared that Aimclear ran sponsored posts on Marketing Land and Search Engine Land, then, used paid social ads to target job titles of journalists. This tactic resulted in quotes and links from high authority sites like Wall Street Journal and won them a US Search Award.

What this means for inbound marketers:

eMarketer research shows that 69mm people used an ad blocker in 2016 and that number is expected to rise by 24% in 2017. With the increase of ad blockers, marketers will need to find new sources of revenue.

By blending PPC, SEO, and PR marketing channels, your content and your brand can grow much faster if crafted together.

Brand Reputation

Building an online presence isn’t only about keywords, page speed, and HTTPS migrations, it’s also about helping users discover your brand in the online and offline world with enriched experiences.

Rhea Drysdale of Outspoken Media applies three rules when building a positive brand reputation:

  • Have a clear mission.
  • Understand how you’re going to communicate that message.
  • Set-up systems and culture to exceed expectations.
What this means for inbound marketers:

Creating more touch points between your customers and your brand is just another opportunity to provide more value.

For example, Seventh Generation’s mission statement is “Creating powerful-plant based solutions for your home and family.”

As you can see below, it’s listed clear in the navigation.


Seventh Generation partnered with Maya Rudolph to create a campaign that received 74 referring domains! That's major.

Not only did it receive a ton of PR and backlinks, but it tied together with their overall company mission statement.


As marketers build out content, we will need to need to audit the content to align it with the mission statement and brand messages.

Awesome Content

For something that’s on every website, it’s very hard to find awesome content.

Question: If you cover up your logo, can you recognize your brand? (Be honest!)

Ann Handley’s presentation was all about telling a bigger, braver, bolder story. The type of story that puts your business in the context of what people care about.

So, how do you tell a bigger, braver, bolder story? You change the narrative with your tone of voice.

Let's look at some examples of brands telling bigger, braver, bolder stories:

And, a personal favorite example from Ann’s presentation was Freaker USA. Just read their About page. It's all about being a part of a lifestyle.


Side note: I did purchase Piggy Stardust. Thanks, Ann!

What this means for inbound marketers:

Inbound marketers often have to juggle executing content, optimizing for SEO and promoting it to social channels. One great benefit of creating excellent content is that it naturally affects your SEO and social. Awesome content compliments SEO and vice versa.

Ann left us with a great quote from William G.T. Shedd “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” Content is meant to be awesome. What’s the point of writing if you’re not going to add value and engage your audience? Why have an About page on your website if it’s doesn’t bring me into the brand lifestyle like Freaker USA?

As semantic search and AI evolve more to understanding natural language, marketers can adopt a lifestyle tone of voice and not be restrained to the keyword funnels that we once restricting.

Your Take on SEJ Summit 2017's Insights?

From chatbots and voice search to featured snippets and content sculpting, the 2017 SEJ Summit seemed to cover all the hot topics in inbound marketing.

As search engines evolve and artificial intelligence continues to impact the way we live our lives, eventually marketers will have to change the way we interact with consumers and the way we market.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all these insights from the SEJ Summit presentations.

Have you started experimenting with chatbots?

What do you think will have the most impact on your site now?

How do you think these will change internal marketing processes?

Do You Know The ROI Of Your Inbound Marketing Campaigns?

Use Our Handy Marketing ROI Calculator

Originally published May 16, 2017. Updated November 9, 2017.