When MnSearch, Minnesota’s premier collection of search marketing luminaries, held its latest big annual summit in St. Paul, we knew TopRank Marketing had to be in the house. I attended Friday’s festivities at the RiverCentre along with our search marketing manager Ryan Leighty.
It was my first time attending a marketing conference in almost three years — and also my first time meeting my awesome coworker Ryan in person — which created plenty of good vibes in itself. But there was also a lot of really great content from very bright folks, making this event all the more enriching.
Ryan and I divided and conquered the day’s sessions. Naturally, he dove into the more technical search topics — you’ll be shocked to hear Google Analytics 4 (GA4) was a recurring focus! — while I gravitated more toward the content-centric themes.
Here I’ll share some of the most notable insights and learnings I took away from the sessions I attended at the MnSearch Summit 2022.
Jenny Halasz on Ecommerce Pitfalls & Solutions
The morning started with an opening keynote from Jenny Halasz, SEO manager at LL Flooring (formerly Lumber Liquidators). She spoke about five key search-related challenges in today’s eCommerce space and how to overcome them.
1 — Site migrations: They never go smoothly and there are a tremendous number of technical variables for which to account.
What to do: Hire a seasoned SEO consultant or agency (hey, she said it, not me!) to help you navigate the complexities. And also: never do a migration during a busy season for the business.
2 — Seasonality: It’s not as simple or straightforward as some make it out to be. Some months have different numbers of days, some have holidays, and so on, making apples-to-apples comparisons misleading.
What to do: Don’t always take data at face value. Analyze search trends and seek out deeper context.
3 — Speed matters: Page load speed is a key factor in driving traffic and conversions, and it’s especially critical with the continuing growth of mobile commerce. Mobile spending is expected to be three times higher in 2025 than it was in 2019, according to Halasz.
4 — Duplication: It’s not always just straight-up duplicated content. Halasz spoke about “duplication of purpose” affecting one area of the LL Flooring website, where the content on two vinyl flooring pages was different but addressed the same thing so users found it redundant.
What to do: Test relentlessly to seek out duplicative instances in your user experience. Halasz mentioned that when her team combined the two pages mentioned above into one, overall performance improved substantially.
5 — Trusting tools: There are plenty of great SEO tools out there, but some specialize in detecting different things, and certain tools will miss certain issues.
What to do: Use multiple complementary tools to avoid missing important errors and opportunities.
“I cannot emphasize enough how good tests are, and the importance of testing your site constantly.” — @JennyHalasz #SEO #MnSearchSummit Click To Tweet
Niki Mosier on Building a Content Strategy for a Niche Industry
When you’re operating in a niche industry, many pillars of building a traditional content strategy need to be reconsidered. Niki Mosier has experienced this first-hand as director of digital marketing and content at AgentSync, a company operating within a niche vertical in the insurance licensing and compliance space.
Mosier laid out a few of these situational challenges:
- Competitive analysis is difficult because there are few other players to help understand what’s working and where the white-space is.
- Your emerging company likely has no authority or reputation in the SERPs.
- Writer expertise is hard to come by because the subject matter is so specialized and often esoteric.
At the same time, there are a ton of opportunities for marketers working in uncrowded verticals. These include a wide range of topics to tackle (it’s all basically white-space!), distinctly defined personas for targeting, and the ability to test and see results more quickly in a SERP. I myself have enjoyed these aspects of working with “category creation” clients, which are among my favorite programs to take on.
Mosier walked through the strategy AgentSync put into action, and the fast growth they were able to achieve in brand awareness and organic traffic. The biggest recommendations: lean on your internal subject matter experts to inform and guide content, and create FAQ pages to answer key questions within your niche. Mosier mentioned that AgentSync saw especially strong search performance with this type of query-driven content – probably because they were giving the best answers.
Brian Massey on Getting Started with A/B Testing
As the name of his company Conversion Sciences suggests, Brian Massey loves to geek out about optimizing conversions. When he came on stage to present at the MnSearch Summit, he was even wearing a lab coat.
Massey believes that marketers can gain an almost “unfair advantage” through the savvy use of data and science, with A/B testing serving as a perfect example. He invoked a number of human instincts and psychological traits – such as anchoring, loss aversion, and causation vs. correlation ambiguity – that necessitate a more objective approach to analysis.
As he put it, “three pounds of seething biases live between our ears.”
A/B testing removes this bias from the equation. You can approach the practice in two ways: either a before-and-after analysis — test two variations over different time periods and compare — or split testing — serve different variations to visitors, with a 50/50 split, for live and real-time testing. Whichever route you choose, make sure you’re developing a valid sample size and understanding what the outputs mean. Massey said that you should only be looking for significant changes in conversion rate, i.e. 20% or more.
An effective A/B testing approach will produce one of three outcomes for any page it’s applied to:
- Win: Conversions are improved with the variation, and the changes are put into effect.
- Save: Conversions decline, meaning you saved yourself from losing conversions.
- Inconclusive: No significant change, thus you can save yourself the efforts and resources involved with a full implementation that won’t have the desired impact. Massey said this is the most common outcome.
“Test before you invest!” — Brian Massey @bmassey #CRO #ABtesting #MnSearchSummit Click To Tweet
Bob Sparkins on the Anatomy of a High-Converting Landing Page
A fitting follow-up to the previous session from Mr. Massey, this one also focused on using data to maximize landing page conversions, except in this case the data is historical rather than first-hand. As a sales marketing manager for Leadpages, Bob Sparkins has access to a lot of this data. In his presentation he shared common traits of his company’s highest-performing landing page templates.
Some best practices that emerged through this review:
- Lead magnet: This refers to the asset or hook you’re using to draw people in. Resource guides, checklists and cheat sheets relating directly to a specific audience pain point tend to drive higher conversions.
- Headlines: Make sure you’re focusing less on what you’re giving away or selling, and more on the results they’ll get out of taking this journey. Aim for the intersection of emotional impact and immediacy.
- Minimalism: Ask for only the information that is essential to your lead generation process. Fewer fields means more conversions. In many cases, first name and an email address are all you really need to collect.
- Two-step opt-in: This basically means that instead of filling out form fields on the landing page itself, the user clicks a button and then the form pops up. When people click through to a landing page and see a form right away, it can put them on guard. Sparkins said that split-testing (remember that?) shows that two-step opt-ins outperform standard form fills most of the time.
- Hero image: You want the user to see themselves in their desired future state. Don’t show a graphic of a frustrated guy with his face in his palms.
Above all, Sparkins stressed the importance of actions taken before someone arrives at the landing page. Building a strong reputation for your brand, and priming the user with the right message in the ad or SERP that’s bringing them to the page, are vital.
Christina Garnett on Harnessing Brand Affinity Through Community
Although her subject matter veered away a bit from the usual SEO-driven lens of this event, I was nonetheless eager to see Christina Garnett of HubSpot speak on the value and impact of brand communities, since it’s something I’ve felt strongly about for some time.
Garnett shared a “Hierarchy of Brand Love,” deriving from Abraham Maslow’s classic psychological model of human needs. From the most basic and necessary level of community-building to the most aspirational ideal, it goes like this:
- Survival: Your brand and its solutions meet customer expectations.
- Safety: Customer support is your front-line to deliver better experiences.
- Love/Belonging: You’re proactively increasing brand affinity with swag, acknowledgement of positive word-of-mouth, and facilitating customer connections.
- Esteem: You’re developing brand advocacy with elite care that feels exclusive (i.e. behind-the-scenes access, VIP opportunities, betas and focus groups).
- Self Actualization: You’re turning your customers into product experts, giving them opportunities to shine, and providing resources to improve knowledge.
When you reach that highest level of brand love, your customer community becomes a powerful, semi-autonomous force in your marketing and growth. So it’s easy to see the benefit.
How can you climb this hierarchy? Garnett offered many suggestions, but it mostly comes down to this: show the people in your community you see them and care about them (“There’s no easier way to make someone feel special than to treat them like they’re special,”) and make advocacy easy and flexible. She also pointed session attendees to a free open-source template for building your own “Minimum Viable Community.”
“Brand love is created when it’s clear that you care about what your customer cares about.” — @ThatChristinaG #BrandCommunities #BrandLove #MnSearchSummit Click To Tweet
Alina Benny on Winning with Content Operations
The final session I attended at the MnSearch Summit was of particular interest to me personally, given my role as a senior content marketing manager on a growing team. While creatives like myself might enjoy dedicating most of our energy toward devising and creating content, there’s no question that defining and refining the team’s structure and processes is essential to scalably doing that well.
This was the subject of Alina Benny’s talk, drawing from her experiences as head of content SEO for Nextiva and as a growth SEO advisor at Figma. She described content ops as “the next wave of doing content marketing better.” Effective content operations, according to Benny, leads to higher-quality content, faster production cycles, improved ROI, and more.
In her presentation, she shared specific examples of organization charts and workflows. Clearly there are many ways to go about it, and the specifics will vary based on the team, but her core message was this: documentation is everything. And it’s surprisingly rare to see it done comprehensively.
While Benny admitted that this is a specialized skill of hers, she encouraged everyone watching to focus on strengthening their commitment. Create time for documentation and make it a priority. Shared, dependable knowledge bases are a cornerstone of smooth and sustainable content operations. That’s definitely a message that hit home with me.
“#ContentOps is a key competitive advantage. Not everyone’s good at documenting repeatable processes.” — @alinacbenny #ContentMarketing #MnSearchSummit Click To Tweet
TopRank Marketing’s Nick Nelson and Ryan Leighy