BrightonSEO is one of the largest conferences on SEO, content, and digital marketing in the world.
It’s been almost a month since the latest BrightonSEO event wrapped up. And now that we’ve had some time to think through all the amazing talks we heard, we’d like to share three of the most important lessons we learned at BrightonSEO this September.
Here they are:
1. You can’t “SEO” your way to E-E-A-T
- SEO elements related to E-E-A-T, such as an author bio and an About Us page, are necessary but not sufficient to satisfy Google’s E-E-A-T requirements.
- Real E-E-A-T comes from real-world experiences, which means you can’t “SEO” your way into authoritative bylines.
One of the talks that resonated most strongly with what we do here at Eleven Writing came from Chantal Smink, the “SEO who doesn’t do SEO anymore.”
E-E-A-T refers to Google’s updated quality rater guidelines. It stands for Expertise, Experience, Authority, and Trustworthiness. This is what Google expects websites to demonstrate to readers: that the author has experience and expertise in the subject matter and that they are an authority on it. Together, these three overlapping concepts help build Trust—which Google (cl)aims to identify and reward.
But, Smink believes many content creators and companies are getting this wrong.
This is because, for a long time, Google rewarded content with the right keywords and decent content.
“I baked many of these cakes with SEO and content. In 2016, I wrote about brushing your hair when it’s getting greasy. I had no experience with hair, I didn’t know anything about it. I just googled it. I was like an early ChatGPT. I rehashed it and put it online. It ranked—very well. We sold a lot of shampoos.”
But we’re in 2023, and things have changed.
“Who thinks Gordon Ramsey is the [expert]? I have an About Me page, too, and I have a bio. So why aren’t I the [expert]?
Well, of course I’m not. This is what we SEOs need to know: just because you make yourself look like an [expert]—you aren’t actually it.”
Smink’s point is that you can’t “SEO” your way into E-E-A-T because the E, E and A in E-E-A-T come from the “real world”—what you’ve done, how long you’ve been doing it, how participant you are in conversations.
To meet Google’s challenge of E-E-A-T, companies must understand their customers and produce content that is genuinely useful to them—no surprises there. But the best way to do this, according to Smink, is to leverage the expertise within your company: C-suites and other leaders, whose knowledge of the industry is profound and whose authority Google is sure to understand.
At Eleven, we would add another option: leveraging the knowledge and authority of topic-expert writers in your industry. Not only are they well-placed to help you understand your customers and successfully turn company knowledge into helpful content, but they can also add their own valuable E-E-A-T to your website.
In short: SEO elements like author bios and About Us pages convey E-E-A-T—they do not constitute it. That must come from the authors themselves.
2. How to win Featured Snippets (and why they’re going to get more and more important)
- Search is becoming more conversational. So, focus your titles (and content) around questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and especially How (to).
- Get questions from your customers. (Yes, that means speaking to Sales.)
- Cover your basics, go long-tail based on your customers, and go deep into subjects.
I really enjoyed this talk, even though I didn’t get to see it live. Fortunately, BrightonSEO sends recordings of all the talks to attendees. This is super helpful because the schedule’s always packed with interesting talks, and you have to make some tough choices on which to attend in person.
This talk was given by Jenna Kamal, a contest specialist at GWI.
Kamal starts by explaining that search has become more and more conversational. This is evidenced by the increasing use of voice searches (whether through Google or an assistant like Siri) and, of course, conversational AIs like ChatGPT.
This means that now more than ever, Search looks like questions: How do I swing a golf club? When was the sandwich invented? Who was the first person in space?
Not only is it conversational, but we also see from Featured Snippets that most queries are:
- Immediate. I need to know something now.
- Summarised. Give me the broad strokes.
- Numbers-based. I need a statistic. (I’m either at work trying to win an argument, or I’m at the pub trying to win an argument.)
Upon seeing this, Kamal’s initial strategy was to generate tons and tons of short-form blog content that would answer a single question each time.
Unfortunately, this didn’t work too well.
But, it did pave the way for a new strategy based on long-form content that helped GWI gain thousands of Featured Snippets.
Here’s what they did:
- They spoke to their existing clients to find out what questions they were asking (or wanted to ask).
- Marketing and sales got nice and cosy. Incidentally, I often recommend this to our partners at Eleven Writing: Bring Sales into the conversation, and our content will be much richer and better suited to your customers’ needs.
As Kamal rightly pointed out, one of the great benefits is that it gives you access to the kind of language your customers use to describe their problems (and presumably search for them online!).
- They created customer personas and “worked backwards” to ideate content that addresses their needs, wants, and issues.
- They generated long-form content that covered the gamut from basic to complex, with headings and content structured around a question (title) and answer (copy) format.
“Don’t be afraid to sound basic,” Kamal explained. If someone is searching for something basic that your company does, and you’re worried because you’d rather they hire your services, don’t be. This is the perfect opportunity to tell them who you are and what you’re doing.
“Don’t worry about sounding junior. Don’t worry about sounding very elementary. There’s a place on the SERP for every kind of question.”
So, start answering questions. That’s what most of your long-form content should do.
- They used their long-form content well. All those extra words were used to discuss related questions and give highly detailed answers. (You may not get a rich snippet, but you could get a People Also Ask (PAA) snippet.) Answer every question you can think of related to the topic.
This sounds like an outstanding approach to content to me, and I’m excited to take these insights on board.
- All decision-making is emotional and based on trust.
- Trust and distrust are incompatible biological conditions. You cannot both trust and distrust, and moving from distrust to trust is difficult.
- Inviting customers to “co-create spaces” rather than trying to sell something to them is the most effective way to communicate.
Kelly Johnstone trained as a biologist and currently serves as Head of Content for the Staysure Group. She gave a fascinating talk on the neuroscience of trust and why building it is so important—albeit elusive and somewhat paradoxical, until you know the tricks of the trade.
First, Johnstone highlighted that trust is a feeling—it’s led by emotions. This means that it’s not something you can necessarily come at from an exclusively rational angle. As most of us have probably experienced, you cannot “explain” your way into earning somebody’s trust.
Furthermore, trust and distrust are separate biological conditions. “Trust lives in the prefrontal cortex,” explains Johnstone, and is driven by oxytocin (a hormone), dopamine (a neurotransmitter), and endorphins (neurotransmitters that regulate, among other things, feelings of euphoria).
Distrust, however, lives in the “primitive brain.” It’s powered by your Fight/Flight/Freeze/Appease response, which conditions our initial reaction to everything we encounter in the world.
One important takeaway from this is that you cannot feel trust and distrust simultaneously. It’s one or the other. And moving somebodyfrom a position of distrust, which is primal and powerful, to a position of trust is very difficult.
Another important takeaway is that decision-making, ultimately, is emotional. As humans, we feel (or perhaps hope) that we approach the world rationally. But in reality, our first reactions are almost always emotional. Our brains send us either an “approach” (trust) or “avoid” (distrust) signal, and that determines much of what comes next.
So, what has all of this got to do with content? Quite a lot, actually.
It means that communication is far more nuanced than one might think and that there’s more to gaining somebody’s trust than just presenting them with facts. How you do it, the language you employ, and even your personal agenda (no matter how well-hidden) will impact a person’s decision to approach or avoid—trust or distrust.
Referencing the book Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser, Johnstone explains thatthere are three “stages” or “levels” of goal-oriented communication.
The first and least effective is tell - ask. Lots of companies do this.
“We sell X. The features are Y.” Contrary to what you might think, this isn’t very effective. In fact, it places people in a position of distrust because they immediately understand they’re being sold to. Plus, it skirts past what people actually care about: benefits and outcomes.
The second is advocate - inquire. This is where most brands sit.
This kind of communication involves “loaded conversations that cause protective behaviours.”
“We sell X and it works really well.” Again, it places people in a protective position. Their brain starts warning them: Avoid, avoid, avoid.
The third stage is called Co-creating Spaces, and it’s the sweet spot. It’s what we should aim for when communicating with customers.
The most important premise is that you go in without an agenda. Rather counter-intuitively, this means that your marketing efforts, at least in conception and execution, if not in objectives, cannot be focused on trying to make a sale. If you approach it this way, your language is likely to betray you.
Instead, you must set a “common goal” between you and your customer.
Doing this is difficult because it means giving trust first. “You have to give something up in order for other people to trust you,” explained Johnstone. For companies, that means giving up the agenda of trying to sell a product and instead trusting customers to enter that common goal-setting space with you.
In practical terms, this means focusing on customers’ pain points and benefits and talking “to” your customers rather than “at” them. Use copy that “meets them” at their pain point. As Simon McMahon, our Head of SEO here at Eleven, always says, “You have to join the conversation people are already having in their heads.”
This year, the talks at BrightonSEO helped underscore just how vast and varied the digital marketing landscape is. For me, they also highlighted the importance of taking the time to “do things right” and be genuine in your approach to content and customers.
E-E-A-T is more than mere optimisation—it's about genuine expertise and authority, reinforcing the need for real-world experiences and topic-expert writing. The rise of conversational searches means that content should focus on answering customer questions, using their language, and addressing their concerns.
And finally, customers should be invited to the table, without a specifically sales-oriented agenda, to co-create spaces of trust and collaboration around pain points and benefits.
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