State of Search Conference 2019

5 Main Takeaways to Apply to Your Higher Education Marketing Campaigns

I had the honor of speaking at the State of Search marketing conference in Dallas at the beginning of this month, covering “how to create a year’s worth of content ideas in two hours.” I also ran a site clinic session to offer individual help to attendees and spoke on the women in tech and mental health panels, both aimed at raising awareness for inclusion in our industry.



One of the biggest topics that many speakers and attendees mentioned about during the conference was BERT, which is short for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.” The purpose of BERT is to help AI better understand natural language processing (NLP). The hope is that BERT, which affects about 10 percent of all Google search queries, can better understand user intent when searching. For example, the searches “yankees game” and “yankees games” identify two different types of user intent. For the singular, someone is likely looking for the score of the latest game. For the plural, it would be reasonable to think the user would like a list of the upcoming Yankees games.


Several of the speakers mentioned that it is impossible to “optimize” for BERT. The best way to prepare your websites for BERT is to have high-quality content that answers users’ queries in a satisfactory and in-depth way.


If you’d like to learn more about BERT and its impact on SEO, Britney Muller from Moz did a good Whiteboard Friday about BERT.



Getting mentioned in a featured snippet (that is, an appearance in the enhanced search results of Google, such as additional links or more text) is a goal of many SEOs, as some studies have shown that it does increase website traffic. While there isn’t a hard and fast method to getting listed in featured snippets, Perficient Digital’s Eric Enge spoke about the latest research his company did to find the factors that lend itself to a higher chance of inclusion.

His steps were:

  1. Identify a simple question
  2. Provide direct information about the question
  3. Add related information on the page that users who asked that question would also be interested in


He also mentioned that schema markup was not required to be in featured snippets. This is something that many SEOs thought to be true previously (though adding schema markup to pages is still heavily recommended). Finally, Eric mentioned these other findings from his research: shorter content was not better and having pages in just FAQ format is not ideal for getting featured either.


Image URLs

One surprising takeaway from SEO Casey Markee’s presentation was the importance of image URLs. Images are important to optimize (with ideal descriptive file names and alt text) because they can get included in Google image search results. Casey stressed the importance of never deleting images since that would basically make any links these images were receiving from Google images and elsewhere obsolete.


Instead, he recommends using a WordPress plugin to replace/update images that are on the same URL.


Additional WordPress SEO Advice

Casey also included additional tips for SEOs looking to optimize a WordPress website. Some of the specific indicators of a well-optimized WordPress website include:

  • Breadcrumb navigation
  • A linked byline with a clear author for every page of content (outside of info pages, like About Us)
  • Date stamps
  • Jump/On-page navigation
  • No ads above the fold



Linkbuilding can be an arduous endeavor that many SEOs put off because it’s difficult to find the right opportunities. According to the speaker Jesse McDonald of IBM, search operators are a great way to help speed up the link prospecting process. For example, you can look up keywords like "sponsorships" or "scholarships" with searches to look for resource pages that may want to include your offered scholarship.


To learn more about available search operators and how to use them, check out this guide that Jesse McDonald mentioned by Dr. Pete of Moz.


Overall, State of Search 2019 was an informative, fun event and I was glad I was a part of it! The conference happens every year in October or November, so be on the lookout for the next dates to be announced at


Kelsey Jones, Content Director, Website Marketing

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