MozCon 2020 is a wrap.

We heard from many speakers covering many industries, but even more compelling than the voices we heard, was the common themes between them. 

I worked with my fellow attendees from 97th Floor to pull together the common themes and action items from MozCon 2020. In no particular order, here's the themes we saw, and what marketers and brands should be doing next. 

Earnest, empathetic, and understanding

Global Pandemic

As always Moz leads by example when discussing difficult, but necessary, topics. Like addressing the current economic, social, and civil situations. Sarah Bird kicked the conference off by acknowledging the current environment, and Dr. Pete gave a heartfelt opening to his address on keyword research. Immediately Dr. Pete had my heart and attention as he drew the connection between today's circumstances and how these factor into the fundamentals of SEO. Specifically topical research.

Of course today's economic climate is affecting each of the businesses we work for. Wil Reynolds closed the conference by introducing us to the new CMO, or rather, the lack thereof. We were all given stark evidence that our careers and success as marketers hinge on being able to effectively communicate in the language of the board. 

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The Takeaway: I think I speak for everyone when I say I’m sick of hearing “unprecedented times” in brand messaging. Let’s skip getting things back to normal and instead make things better. No doubt, the past few months have changed some foundational elements of everyone’s lives, but as marketers let’s make sure this change is for good, and is long lasting.

Look at your current marketing efforts and ask, "Are we trying to get back to "normal"? Or are we using this as an opportunity to get better?

Programming is not just for developers anymore

I think I speak for all the attendees when I say that day 2 of MozCon 2020 was filled with equal parts intrigue and trepidation. Of course we've all known for a long time 97th Floor has already believed in the power of unconventional data sets for practical SEO use. (We're so close to launching something big around this, stay tuned!)

I think most SEOs understand and respect the different methods of deep technical SEO, but many don't know what's possible, or how to begin. Enter Moz's Senior SEO Scientist Britney Muller, who walk gave every attendee the chance to dip their toes into machine learning and automaton.

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Britney continued on with examples and uses cases, but perhaps none was more interesting than entities from Google. Essentially it's a score that indicates Google's topical associations with a given URL. I'm excited to dig deeper into this later. 

Of course every attendee this year remembers Michael King's one of a kind theatrical experience showcasing the many use cases of data scraping, machine learning, big data crunching, and artificial intelligence.

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This address was maybe the heaviest conference address I've ever heard, but the format of a ~30 minute film and story made it actually digestible. In the traditional setting, my eyes may have glazed, but today, they were glued. Today, we witnessed a new medium for virtual conference addresses. Well done Michael!

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The Takeaway: The technical inspiration shared today could come across as fiercely intimidating. But you can take it for a fact that these advanced scripts, and machine learning setups aren't conceived out of nothing (even for the pros). If you are enthralled by the idea to get busy with scripts, machine learning, and automations start slow and be patient with yourself. It's a brave new world! Also rewatch those sessions when the recordings come out.

Stay glued to the 97th Floor social accounts and newsletter to be of the first to know when we drop our own software that accomplishes a lot of the technical crunching we've seen seen at MozCon. 

The customer journey is more relevant than ever

How can you get customers if you don't know them? Even before Coronavirus, the industry has been seeing subtle shifts to growth-driven marketing. Or in other words, measurable marketing.

Quickly Wil Reynolds had the audience's attention with the line, "The less you understand your customer, the more you spend to acquire them."

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If we really care about bottom line budgets, we should start acting like it. Wil went on to call out mistakes he's seen of advertisers spending inefficiently because they didn't have their customer map dialed in. He made the case that saving money comes when you understand the customer journey and all marketing facets work in unison to perfect the customer journey experience. 

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Branding expert Flavilla Fongang uncovered timeless branding expertise with many notable tactics like:

  • collaborating with companies you share an audience (but not a product) with
  • creating lasting customer experiences
  • focus on community building

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But perhaps none was more resounding to me than her declaration that customer engagement is a company-wide effort. Innovation must be built into the company culture to retain and delight customers.

The Takeaway: The customer journey is not only knowing your audience, it's anticipating their next move. The customer journey is crucial to bottom-line success. There are too many options in your space for you to just meet needs, we need to exceed customer expectations. And that only comes when we know our audience.

Invest in a real customer journey map (not just audience insights), paired with your published content. Hopefully you find gaps in the journey, filling those gaps with customer-focused content is your next homework assignment.

A great place to start on this a guide we put together on building a bullet-proof buyer persona.

Sharing your wins losses

I love transparency, but even more I love the vulnerability that took place at MozCon 2020. Speakers were eager to share what didn’t work for them. Phil Nottingham shared a story of setting three different budgets for a set video ads, $1,000, $10,000, and $100,000.

  • $1K Budget: Shot on an iPhone X
  • $10K Budget: Shot on a Canon C300
  • $100K Budget: Shot on an Arri Amira (a really expensive camera)

Obviously this would mean huge differences in the production value of these campaigns, and you might think that a better video ad would lead to better traffic.

Crazy right?

But we learned that spending more doesn’t mean it’ll produce proportionally more results.

Shannon McGuirk also spared no punches in reviewing her past work in link acquisition. I love this honesty, because this is how we (as a community) go further. Link acquisition is something that most are shy to share, so I was especially glad to see Shannon’s blunt honesty about what didn’t work (and what did).


The above graphic from Shannon shows what our marketing efforts tend to look like. You can see that majority of the activity is bringing in steady results. We can all see this is a healthy balance of activity, yet too often marketers only focus on the "huge wins" and consider everything else a fail. Embrace the steady performing campaigns and learn from your fails.

The Takeaway: None of us have ever marketed through a global pandemic before (unless someone at MozCon 2020 was marketing during the Spanish Flu 100 years ago). Let’s grant ourselves a little leeway and break a few eggs while we make a marketing omelet in this new world.

So don't shy away from getting after something our of your comfort zone. Whether you win or lose, the world keeps spinning. So get after that crazy idea you've been pushing off. 

Customers (and audiences) don’t come easy

You know that building and selling to an audience isn’t cheap. You didn’t need to pay for a MozCon ticket to hear that, but it’s important to be reminded that people aren’t waiting around online for a brand to win their loyalty. Phil Nottingham encapsulated this feeling when he said, “The number of impressions is not the number of people impressed.”


A number of speakers today expressed renewed focus on audience building, especially through the lens of the unique health, economic, social, and civil circumstances everyone is facing today.

The Takeaway: Be empathetic and understanding with your audience. Rerun your keyword research because volumes and interests have changed dramatically in the past few months. Being quick on an SEO/paid media/content strategy for up and coming keywords in your space will be rewarded with more traffic. Now comes the fun part of turning that traffic into an audience, which was discussed today by many presenters.

Get fresh keyword and audience data, then restructure your traffic and audience source. 

Collect and use audience data

This isn’t a new topic for MozCon, or any digital conference for that matter, but today it matters more than it did in the past. Just within the past several months, spending and consuming habits have changed dramatically. If SEOs are working purely off keyword data that is 6-12 months old, they are missing out on huge opportunities. 

Utilizing Google Trends at this time is a great place to start, and Dr. Pete took us on a journey of just how to grab that data. Who else was excited to learn about Pinterest Trends?


Many others at MozCon shared truly cool ways to collect and crunch data that give you deep and actionable understanding your audience, for example...

  • Robin Lord shared the measures he has taken to secure specific geo-market search data for competitors
  • Alexis Sanders walked us through research methods using familiar tools in new ways to gain new customer insights
  • Rob Ousbey's gave extremely detailed steps on how to perform advanced and actionable data scrapes (this is not for the faint of heart)
  • Izzi Smith's definitions of short click, medium click, long click, and last click certainly left us with more think about when measuring audience targeting and engagement

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And don't write off knowing your own business. Heather Physioc laid down the foundational truth that before any significant marketing can be conducted, we need to understand the brand we are marketing for. Including our values and competitive edge. A good tip for defining your competitive edge is finding the collection of words that describe your businesses that end in "est" (i.e. quickest, cheapest, etc.).

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The Takeaway: Your audience, along with their wants and needs, has likely drastically shifted over the last six months. If you aren't on top of those new insights, you are bleeding money. Lucky for you, there’s data out there to inform your audience strategy. Of course there’s some readily available data sources from traditional tools, but through custom scrapers and unique data pulls/crunches you can get clean data that actually informs strategy.

Make every effort to obtain audience data, build real personas, and then use those personas throughout your marketing team. 

Invest in your own channels

Another way to say this is to invest in your brand.

This is another trend that isn’t exclusive to this MozCon, but we’ve been saying the same thing for years. However, I think most brands are feeling this exaggerated effect given the economic hardships associated with the Coronavirus pandemic.

It was mentioned multiple times by many speakers; Capture and delight your audience, and then nurture them on your own platforms. Be it your copy, website, videos, or email. 

Phil Nottingham gave a great example of this such as Uber creating Uber Presents, or Mailchimp creating Mailchimp Presents, or Wistia creating Brandwagon, a late night style talk show for marketers.


All of these projects are great examples of companies creating content for their audience. They become the media their users seek, rather than spending a ton of money to annoy users on other media platforms.

When Brian Dean started by dropping some Star Wars themed slides, he had me. But the data kept me! For example he confirmed what many have already assumed, but not with the hard data behind it. Your email subscribers are more likely to get to your content than your social followers.  

Screen Shot 2020-07-15 at 3.45.55 PMNot to mention Brian's presentation also discussed specifics of how to invest in your brand. He asserts (and I agree) that marketers need to spend more time on the promotion of their content, especially when compared to how much time we spend creating it. He called for an end to the "