A Tale of Two Lunch Tables at MozCon 2018 (Content-Driven Link Building and Local Search)

A few months ago I won a VIP ticket to MozCon 2018, Moz‘s annual SEO conference (you can see my winning submission here if you’re interested). The conference took place in Seattle on 9-11th July 2018.

I considered publishing a write-up of my experience for State of Digital, but you know what? Why bother? You could’ve followed the tweets on the #MozCon hashtag, or pored over the various slide decks provided by the speakers after they’d done their talks, or you can buy and watch the videos of all the talks from Moz (as they make them available afterwards). There will probably be 50 write-ups across 50 blogs within a week of the dust settling post-conference…

Instead I realised that there was an aspect of MozCon that wouldn’t be covered: no (or very few) tweets, no slide decks, no videos. What am I talking about? The lunchtime discussion tables.

MozCon 2018 lunch tables (Dr Pete)
During each of the three days of the conference, attendees had the opportunity to sit on one of a number of round-tables during the lunch breaks, each led by a host (usually someone from Moz or closely affiliated, such as one of the speakers), to discuss a particular subject in length for an hour or so. Moz called them the Birds of a Feather tables – you can see a full list of topics/hosts partway down this post by Moz.

Sadly I didn’t get the chance to sit on one on the Monday, but I did on the Tuesday and Wednesday. Here are my notes from them.

Content-Driven Link Building – hosted by Paddy Moogan

Paddy MooganPaddy Moogan is the co-founder of Aira, a digital marketing agency in the UK.

Here’s what we discussed:

GDPR – Starting things off on a heavy subject(!), I asked Paddy if he’d experienced any difficulty when doing link building outreach for clients due to the recent GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that’d come into force earlier in the year. He said mostly no, however one thing his agency found is that they couldn’t share any contact/outreach lists with clients, as sharing that data would breach GDPR. As an alternative they would share just the website names and the company departments (e.g. Marketing) they would outreach to, but not any personally-identifiable information.

Getting the attention of the media – Someone asked for Paddy’s advice on ways to create content that would grab the attention of the media, who would then talk about it (and hopefully link to it too). He said that having a strong focus on data was key, and that even though it might feel like every stone has been turned by this point, combining different datasets can be a really good way to report on something entirely new. It can often help to get the client involved in the content ideation sessions too, if that’s possible.

When a few campaigns have been carried out, it’s important to analyse them – to find out what worked and what didn’t, so that you can learn from them ready for future campaigns. Sometimes you can identify patterns, which can help you to pick up on why certain campaigns were successful while others flopped.

HARO – HARO (Help A Reporter Out) got a mention from one of the attendees, which is a platform used by journalists and bloggers to try and get a quote or comment on their stories. Someone said that a good way to learn how to create a good pitch was to put a request out of your own – that way you can see what it’s like ‘on the other side’ and find out first-hand what pitches work and don’t (as you’d be the one getting pitched to). Paddy also recommended the Twitter hashtags #journorequest and #prrequest as alternatives to HARO.

Image citation guidelines & image reclamation – One of the table’s attendees was a blogger, who’d noticed that people had been using her images without permission. Her images contained a watermark, but often the image ‘thieves’ were even cropping out the watermark when reusing them (so cheeky)! People recommended that she create an image citation guidelines page/section on her blog, for two reasons: 1) to hopefully educate would-be image users that images cannot be used without permission, and 2) if she were to outreach to people who had used her images without consent then she could point them to the page in order for them to learn more about the blog’s rules.

There was also a recommendation for TinEye, a reverse image search engine – you can put your image(s) into it and it’ll tell you if and where it’s been used elsewhere on the Web.

Infographics – The dreaded ‘i-word’ (as I jokingly call them) was brought up when someone asked if the tactic was dead. Paddy explained that infographics weren’t dead per se, but that they’d gotten a bit of a bad reputation as more and more people flooded the Web with poorer and poorer quality infographics. If they’re good – and we mean really good – and especially if they do something new or different (e.g. an interactive infographic) then there’s no reason why it couldn’t or shouldn’t succeed.

Improving your outreach game – Paddy was asked for tips on how to improve on outreach:

  • Don’t include images in the email, just in case it’s immediately seen as spam.
  • Experiment with different formats of email – i.e. mix up and split-test your outreach.
  • It’s tacky as hell, but using emoji in subject lines does work (at least for now)…
  • Twitter can be a good alternative contact method for outreach, say if you’re unable to find the email address for someone you want to contact (but you know they’re on Twitter), or if you think there may be a higher chance of response if you try Twitter over email.

Organising teams – With Paddy running an agency and therefore a team of outreach specialists, he was asked how he manages them. He told us that once every few weeks, the team takes an hour out to discuss and exchange ideas and to talk about what’s working well so that they can share their experiences with their colleagues. They also conduct idea generation for new clients/campaigns as a team, so everyone can chip in with their ideas.

Local Search – hosted by Darren Shaw

Darren ShawDarren Shaw is the founder of Whitespark, a Local SEO software and citation service provider.

We were also very fortunate to have Ben Fisher join us on our table, one of (I believe) only 14 Google My Business Top Contributors worldwide.

Here’s what we discussed:

Google Posts – If utilised, Google Posts appear alongside your Google My Business (GMB) result when people Google your brand. They appear for just one week, automatically expiring after that. It’s a bit of SERP real estate you wouldn’t get otherwise, so why not make use of it?

Mike Ramsey (who also spoke at MozCon on the subject of Local SEO) indicated that only 5% of companies actually use Google Posts, but he also had a great tip: if you’re not sure what to share (examples could include details of an upcoming event, a current sale or offer you’re pushing, etc.) then why not just show a customer testimonial? It’s a great thing for a prospective customer to see when s/he is researching your business.

One round-table attendee shared with us a case study they’d come across whereby a Google Post was essentially used as a banner saying “Now accepting bookings,” which led to a 11% increase in bookings for the client.

And according to Top Contributor Ben, you can include a utm_term parameter in any links that you include within the post that will disclose what search term the searcher came from in your Google Analytics.

Q&A – Google My Business’ newly introduced Q&A section has often been ignored by businesses – until people start leaving questions, of course. What Google don’t tell you is that there’s nothing wrong with businesses pre-populating it with what they expect to be frequently asked questions (TC Ben confirmed that this was ok to do, and even encouraged it). Better that than someone leaving confusing or silly questions (which could lead to confusing or silly answers in return) – Mike Blumenthal shares some great examples of ‘Q&A fails’ over on the #GoogleQandA hashtag FYI.

Don’t forget as well that if a question is asked multiple times, it might be worth adding it to your site, whether on the About page, as part of an FAQ page (if you have one) or as a blog post – just in case customers try to find the answer directly on your site without noticing the answer on your Google Map listing.

Darren has written a great guide on Google Q&As if you’re interested in learning more.

Reviews on Google – Whole blog posts have been dedicated to aspects of Google Reviews, so it’s often considered an important and sought-after topic. We discussed the following about them:

  • Asking people to leave reviews on Google is fine (so long as you don’t incentivise them, e.g. with a discount or a prize). If you’re asking family or friends, there’s no reason why you can’t help them to write the review and ask them to include keywords (e.g. “The Inn at the Crossroads bakes the best pies in Westeros,” rather than just “It’s a great place” or no text all).
  • However, based on Darren’s own research, including keywords in owner responses to reviews seemingly has no effect (boooo)…
  • As of very recently, anonymous Google reviews have been removed. So if you have a client with some old-but-great anonymous reviews (as people could leave reviews anonymously in the pre-Google+ days), you may want to consider getting some more new reviews to counteract the measure – especially if the anonymous ones were all 5-stars and more recent reviews haven’t been as kind, as the former won’t be counted at all anymore…
  • Darren argued that 1-star reviews can be a good thing! If a business only has 5-star reviews, it might look false – even if they’re all 100% genuine. So a couple of mediocre/poor reviews can really make your business look more authentic. Also, it gives the business the opportunity to show that they care: if they leave a response saying that they’ll do all they can to make it right, it looks good to other prospective customers. He also made the point that 1-star reviewers are usually out for blood, or just having a bad day – other people see that and will bear that in mind when sizing up a potential company, especially if the vast majority of the remaining reviews are glowingly positive.
  • If you get a 1-star Google review from someone you don’t recognise, there’s nothing wrong by defending it by saying “We’re really sorry but we don’t recognise that name, but if you contact us then we’ll do whatever we can to make it right” (or something to that effect). Darren mentioned an example of a great response by Kick Point in Edmonton, which is worth checking out.
  • Trying to get an obviously fake and/or libelous review removed? If flagging it from one account yields no success, try to get multiple accounts to flag it. And if that fails, raise it with the official GMB forums.

Google+ (yes, really) – Remember Google+? While many people have moved on from the flailing social platform, Ben (albeit still an occasional G+ user) mentioned one really important point about Google+ which may encourage people to keep using it, even if only infrequently.

Earlier this year Google sent emails with the subject line “Unused Google+ page” explaining that they were going to delete unused Google+ pages tied to Google My Business profiles but that the latter would be unaffected by the change (funnily enough my freelance business got such an email only a few weeks ago).

If this happens, you stand to lose all your account’s history and past followers – that may not seem like a big deal now, but should you decide to give Google+ another go in the future, you’d essentially be starting again from scratch. An “unused” page is a page that’s not had any activity on it for over 5 months, so you’d only really need to post 2-3 times a year to keep it going, which is hardly a major time investment.

MozCon 2018 lunch tables (Darren Shaw)


I’d like to give a big thank you to both Paddy and Darren, who gave me their permission to write up and publish my notes from the round-tables, and each also gave me the opportunity to clarify anything with them directly. Thanks guys!

[Image credits – Valon Badivuku & Alycia Mitchell, used with permission in both cases]

About Steve Morgan

CIM-qualified Online Marketing & SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) Consultant with over 9 years of online marketing experience: 4 years' agency experience; around 6 months' experience working in-house for a national household name in the insurance industry; now freelancing full-time.