July 9, 2015 | Sarah Danks

Minnesota Search Engine Marketing Association Annual #MnSummit

The MnSearch organization has one of those “Cinderella story” backgrounds. It started out with a vague idea and a few people worked hard to make it become an egg of promise.

And that little egg has since hatched and become a force with which to be reckoned (I reckon). How so?

Last year’s inaugural MnSearch Summit brought 280 marketers together for a day’s worth of awesomeness the likes of which will never be seen again at a first-time marketing conference. (I’m pretty sure I can say that with the utmost of confidence.)

Well, this past June, at the 2nd annual MnSearch Summit, we had a total of 331 attendees — NOT including our stellar speakers or our awesome volunteers — at the large venue (St. Paul Rivercentre). Not too shabby, eh?

Oh, who’m I kidding? It was all of the cool and we can’t deny that. While I was busy running about shooting everyone all day (Ha. I love saying that. Makes me sound like WAY more of a bad-a** than I truly am.), I still got to hear a bit of every presentation — and let me tell you, these online marketers were on their game.

So here’s my recap — albeit brief, more like cliff notes really — of the session and keynote speakers from that day.

Morning Keynote: Duane Forrester

Consumer-Focused Search: Our Future & Your Success

duane forrester at mnsearch summitDuane, the Senior Product Manager – Webmaster Outreach at Bing, isn’t just a marketer with scads of experience. Oh no. He’s a dude chock-full of exuberance. This guy truly loves what he does and is a social butterfly (he’s also not shy in front of a camera, I might add). He lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife (and sense of humor).

He was a joy to listen to and had some great takeaways:

  • 11% of Starbucks transactions per week are done with mobile devices.
  • If you think mobile is coming, you’ve already lost.
  • Stop thinking about driving traffic. You have to think in terms of visitor task completion.
  • Data is important. So share, consume and understand it!
  • SEO might be more complicated these days, but it’s more interesting and rewarding.
  • If people love you, search engines will follow.


Oh, and my personal favorite: “Get your shit done.

*First Session*

Track 1: Jeff Sauer

How We Can Tell a Compelling Story with Our Google Analytics Data

jeff sauer at mnsearch summitJeff is a successful digital marketer, consultant, entrepreneur, business development guru, teacher, analytical thinker…

…and an all-around good guy. Oh, plus I’m super jealous of him because he’s also a jet-setter (sorry, JEFF-setter) who’s always flitting about the globe living a carefree life. I’d say he’s based out of San Francisco, but that’s just changed. I believe his current address is Wherever The Hell I Feel Like.

Here are some quick notes on his Google Analytics preso:

  • The story on mobile isn’t “How can we do it?” It’s “How do we NOT do it?
  • Using in-market segments tells you if you’re getting in front of the right people.
  • Set aside 10-20% of your budget for testing and learning.
  • Direct traffic’s new name: The Darkness.
  • 5 Stories We Can Tell with GA Data:
      Benchmarking, Demographic Reports, Organic Search & (not provided) Keywords, Custom Channel Grouping, Content Grouping
  • Is your website “killing it,” or do you just have referrer spam?

And, we mustn’t forget:


Want more GA data? Here’s Jeff’s presentation.

Track 2: Merry Morud

Advanced Social Advertising: Killer Audience Targeting & Prodigal Customer Acquisition

merry morud at mnsearch summitMerry, the Senior Social Advertising Director at aimClear, is pretty comfortable around social media advertising — especially Facebook ads. She’s constantly speaking at conferences and blogs for her own company as well as Search Engine Watch. She hails from Duluth, Minnesota.

Here are a few tidbits from her presentation:

  • Priority #1 for Facebook ads: targeting. Priority #2? Creative and messaging.
  • If you don’t put any money behind your social content you’re basically being ignored.
  • You can get mad about algorithm changes or you can pull up your bootstraps and figure it out.
  • You don’t “own” the relationship on Facebook; move users from Facebook to your website.


Track 3: Mike Blumenthal

Local Office Hours with “Professor Maps”

mike blumenthal at mnsearch summitMike, founding partner at GetFiveStars.com and co-founder of Local U, is affectionately called “Professor Maps” in our industry. Why? Because he’s pretty much THE local search expert. With 30+ years of experience, it’s no wonder people flock to him for local search advice.

He’s also quite accessible — I saw him talking with quite a few marketers throughout the day, answering questions and the like. Mike calls the Buffalo area of New York his home.

Here are a couple of goodies from his panel discussion:

  • Don’t incentivize reviews, but make them accessible and easy to give.
  • Never underestimate the impact of reviews.
  • Many searches of local intent are now within 5 miles and as little as a 2-mile radius from the searcher.
  • Yelp is arrogant and self-centered.
  • Terms/keyword phrases appearing in Yelp reviews for a business have shown some ability to then increase their visibility in Google SERPS with one box and localized results.


(PS: Thanks to moderator Aaron Weiche for the notes!)

*Second Session*

Track 1: Loren McDonald

Email Marketing Trands, Tactics & Opportunities for Search Marketers

loren mcdonald at mnsearch summitLoren has 30 years’ marketing experience, and is currently the email/marketing automation guy at Silverpop. He’s a chronic speaker at conferences, and has written hundreds of blog posts and articles — and the eBook “Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Email Marketing.” Loren is lucky to live in the San Francisco Bay area.

Here are some email marketing tips from his speech:

  • Email marketing + SEO together make up nearly 40% of inbound traffic for lots of businesses.
  • 53% of emails are being opened on mobile devices.
  • Responsive design offers an opportunity to re-think your email templates.
  • The “batch and blast” approach is a hope strategy when it comes to email marketing.
  • Eliminating friction is more important than engagement.


Track 2: Ian Lurie

Strategies for Addressing Technical Issues Impacting Your Organic Visibility

ian lurie at mnsearch summitIan, founder and CEO of Portent Inc., is a frequent speaker at conferences. He also blogs and has been featured on Forbes and TechCrunch, plus he published the book “One Trick Ponies Get Shot.

It was fun to (finally) meet Ian in person, since I’ve interacted with him before on Twitter chats. He may come across as shy but underneath that façade is a guy with a fun sense of humor! Ian came all the way from Seattle to visit us.

Check out a few tips he presented us with about technical SEO issues:

  • Log file analysis is stupid important — get your data from the horse’s mouth.
  • Everyone talks content, but content will do very little if your infrastructure is broken.
  • 200-300 words isn’t “thin” content — a 200-word page doesn’t sound that bad to me.
  • Don’t use JavaScript — it takes you farther away from perfect.


Want to see more technical issues and how they affect organic? Here’s Ian’s presentation.

Track 3: Sean Callahan

The Data-Driven Content Marketer

sean callahan at mnsearch summitSean’s the Senior Manager of content marketing at LinkedIn, a writer who’s written children’s books and been featured in the New York Times (and other major newspapers), and co-author of “The Big Data-Driven Business: How to Use Big Data to Win Customers, Beat Competitors and Boost Profits.” He didn’t have to travel too far from Chicago to present for us.

Here are a few data-driven points from his talk:

  • 90: the percentage of the buyer’s journey completed by the time a prospect reaches out to a salesperson.
  • Big Data is the most disruptive business force there is.
  • 33% of marketers feel like they’re doing effective content marketing.
  • Brands don’t need more content; they need more RELEVANT content.
  • Repurpose content like leftover turkey — slice it up; don’t let the majority of it go to waste.


*Third Session*

Track 1: Brad Geddes

Perfecting Your PPC Ad Testing in 2015 & Beyond

brad geddes at mnsearch summitBrad’s kind of a big deal in the PPC world (pretty sure we can trust his data; after all, he’s got access to half a BILLION ads). He’s the founder of Certified Knowledge, a prolific conference speaker, an AdWords trainer, an internet marketer, and author of “Advanced Google AdWords.

Oh, and not to mention an eater of cookies! Brad resides in our nation’s capital.

These are just a few of the helpful tips he imparted:

  • Everything in your (PPC) account supports the ad being displayed.
  • See what words resonate with your users — change up ad copy using their own verbiage. (e.g., customers preferred “Rush” to “Free Shipping” — 29% revenue increase)
  • Keep in mind Google may truncate your mobile ad copy.
  • Quality Score means Google likes you; it doesn’t make you money.


Track 2: Casey Henry

Using Video to Create a More Efficient Funnel

casey henry at mnsearch summitCasey is neither a dog NOR a cat person…so I’m not entirely sure he can be trusted. I, on the other hand, am a dog-lover so you can trust ME when I say he is a bit of a goofball — and he knows I mean that with the utmost of respect.

He’s also the former director of inbound engineering at Moz, and currently a marketing analyst at Wistia. Casey doesn’t just have a strong marketing and analytics background, he’s got the love of what he does to back him up. That and a LOT of sass. He harkens from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here’s what he had to tell us about video marketing:

  • Play-rate is a vanity metric. Others are better to know if you’re making money.
  • Video builds emotional connections.
  • Quit being lazy — custom video thumbnails increase play rate by 35%.
  • The videos you make for different platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo) should be different.


Hungry for more video info? Here’s Casey’s presentation.

Track 3: Meghan Casey

Not Without Reason: Content Strategy & SEO

meghan casey at mnsearch summitMeghan is kind of smart. She’s the lead content strategist at Brain Traffic, a content strategist for The Nerdery, a frequent speaker, and author of the soon-to-be-published book “The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right.

And to top it all off, she got an entire workshop to do the wave once. Huzzah! What’s fun is that she’s our very own neighbor — residing right here in the Twin Cities.

Some insights from her preso:

  • Content strategy helps us say “no” to things that don’t make sense
  • Having a content strategy answers the questions “What are we trying to achieve? “What content will help us achieve our goals?”
  • Getting the right content to the right people requires strategy…it’s not easy.
  • playing Mad libs can make your content strategy fun and effective
  • You’re writing for real people, so talk like a real person.


Want more content strategy goodness? Here’s Meghan’s presentation.

LUNCH (sponsored by Bing Ads)

Who doesn’t love tacos? I mean, for real — if you don’t, stop reading this blog post right now. Okay, don’t…

taco lunch at mnsearch summit…but you seriously need to reconsider your life’s priorities.

Anyway. We took a break from learning, note-taking, Tweeting and chatting about marketing to stuff our faces with the world’s most flexible food item (honestly, you can put anything into a tortilla and call it a taco).

‘Twas a tasty meal — only thing that would’ve made it any better was beer. (Hey, I’m not complaining…I’m just SAYING.)

Thanks, Bing Ads, for the comida muy sabrosa!


Afternoon Keynote: Wil Reynolds

The Problem with the ROI of Content

wil reynolds at mnsearch summitWil is the founder of Seer Interactive and has been an internet marketer since 1999 (yes, you youngsters, the internet existed back then). He’s big into excellence, giving back to the community, and treating his team members like kings and queens.

He’s also adept at holding an audience rapt while presenting (present company included). Wil came to speak to us all the way from Philly.

Here are a few of his content ROI tips:

  • Ask yourself: if someone took your content from the web…would anyone miss it?”
  • Great content: requires faith, vision, talent, visibility, data, investment; but wins hearts and minds,
  • Stop writing new content until you perfect the old stuff that’s already getting traffic.
  • Don’t try to outsmart Google. Write content that PEOPLE want to read; write something that helps them solve problems.
  • Loyalty > links.


Hey, for more juicy details check out this great recap of Wil’s presenatation, written by Steve Slater (a MnSearch volunteer and the SEM/SEO/Analytics department at VividImage).

*Fourth Session*

Track 1: Aleyda Solis

How to Effectively Establish & Run a Successful International Digital Marketing Strategy

aleyda solis at mnsearch summitAleyda, founder of Orainti, is an international SEO consultant. She was listed as one of the Top 10 Online Marketing Experts to Follow in 2015 by Forbes, she consistently blogs and speaks at conferences (in both English and Spanish, I might add), and has risen quickly through the ranks of SEO.

She is a super-nice gal and we had quite the fun time chatting during the happy hour — en español, claro. Y mucho gusto conocerte, guapa! We are so very happy to have had Aleyda make the journey all the way from her home in Madrid, Spain to speak to us.

Here’s some strategy from her international marketing strategy speech:

  • Think: should you target countries or languages?
  • When translating a web page, don’t forget the URL! Down to the special characters.
  • Interstitials can cause crawl errors when targeting internationally.
  • Don’t redirect users to a domain based on IP — it’s a bad UX.
  • If there aren’t enough good websites for a query on a given ccTLD, Google offers other ccTLDs.


Want more international strategy advice? Here’s Aleyda’s presentation.

Track 2: Ross Hudgens

How to Create Content Marketing Nirvana

ross hudgens at mnsearch summitRoss is the founder of Siege Media and has worked with companies from small to uber-huge on SEO strategies. He’s been featured on the most credible websites in our industry, including Moz, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal. He regularly blogs and speaks at marketing events.

If you want to learn how to effectively develop, promote and maintain great optimized content, Ross is your guy. We’re happy that he traveled all the way from San Diego to speak to us!

Here are a few of the content goodies he gave us:

  • Get new ideas and spread your content by using sub-Reddits.
  • Alerts in BuzzSumo is a good way to find most popular topics.
  • Top content marketing tools = BuzzSumo, SEMrush, Reddit, Moz.
  • To get the most out of your team, give them a drink…or two.


Track 3: John Gagnon

How to Win with the Unexpected in PPC

john gagnon at mnsearch summitJohn, although a Bing Ads Evangelist, has also worked at Google AdWords. So, I guess he could know a couple things about PPC. Well, that and he’s spoken at SES, SMX, PubCon, TechMarketing 360…

…and regularly contributes to Search Engine Watch and ClickZ. Whew. Probably qualified to speak to us, in other words! Oh, and don’t forget this — he’s also a super-cool guy who loves what he does (and was so nice to patiently allow me to try out some dorky picture ideas).

John is anther west-coaster and came to visit us from Seattle.

Here’s what PPC wisdom he had to impart:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 searches comes from voice search.
  • Consequently, voice search is now a consideration when optimizing PPC.
  • We’ll need to have Bing universal event tracking tags to use remarketing coming this fall.
  • Running PPC with SEO led to 32% lift in clicks (with slight cannibalization of organic listing).


*Fifth Session*

Track 1: Cyrus Shepard

Optimizing for Humans – How We Do SEO at Moz

cyrus shepard at mnsearch summitCyrus is the Director of Audience over at Moz. No big deal. He’s also an avid blogger, SEO, speaker, consultant and one smart cookie. In fact, he says on his Moz profile that he first became a PRO member (of SEOmoz) in 2009 and then “accidentally gained my first paying SEO client.”

Oops. And the rest, as they say, is history! We’re so pumped Cyrus came to present to us all the way from Moz headquarters in Seattle.

Here’s what he told us about how Moz does SEO:

  • The page that best matches user intent is the one that wins.
  • Go ahead and recycle old content — re-post what works!
  • Moz spends 4-5 times more on social than SEO.
  • Content begins to “decay” upon publishing…half-life is only a few months.


Track 2: Bob Stanke

The Power of Real-Time Content for Any Organization

bob stanke at mnsearch summitBob’s the Senior Director of Digital Media for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Lynx (for those of you out-of-towners, that’s our ladies’ basketball team). Obviously he’s right here in our back yard, so he didn’t have to travel far!

In the Wolves’ Den Bob manages the mix of social community, content development, and design that lead to successful business strategies — both online and off.

So, by the time Bob spoke, it was the end of the day…

…and this lil’ photographer was dog-tired. I tip-toed into his presentation to get some shots and slink out again, but before I know it I’d been in there 10 minutes, enthralled by his speech:

  • Today’s search is advancing to be the bridge between a user’s intent and the experiences the world has to offer.
  • I was boggled by his recount of Oakley’s brilliant “promotion” of donating their sunglasses to the Chilean miners whose eyes were unaccustomed to sunlight. They spent ~$50,000 to make 41 million because they took advantage of a real-time situation.
  • Only 4% of marketers respond to breaking news or trends in real-time.


Track 3: Angie Schottmuller

Catapulting Conversion with a Content-First Approach

angie schottmuller at mnsearch summitAngie, a marketing optimization advisor currently working on her first book, is another chronic speaker at conferences. She’s here, she’s there, she’s everywhere. If you want help with conversion rate optimization, I bet Angie can help you.

Another local, Angie is soon to reside in the lovely Forest Lake area of the Twin Cities.

Here are a few of her insights about a content-first approach in marketing:

  • For you (marketer) to reach your goals, the users must first achieve theirs.
  • You can’t be a thought leader unless you’re willing to give away your knowledge.
  • Use “what” and “why” to form your call-to-action (CTA).
  • Know the order of what informs design.


Need more knowledge on how to go about a content-first approach? Here’s Angie’s presentation.

HAPPY HOUR…and Birthday Cake

After the last sessions wrapped up, but before the party, there was the pre-party. Also known as the happy hour(s). Those never last long enough, do they? I certainly didn’t think this one did…

…although maybe it’s because I was lugging around a bunch of camera equipment so I opted out of the Post-Summit Bash at the Liffey.

duane forrester's birthday cake at mnsearch summitSuffice it to say people had a wonderful time with the photo booth (sponsored by WebRanking), the booze and of course MORE food — meatballs, cheese and other yummies. There was some picture-taking, there was some chatting, there was some networking, and there was definitely lots of laughing.

And there was birthday cake.

See, turns out it was Duane Forrester’s birthday so the MnSearch board members had a cake all ready for him. We wanted to do a little photo shoot before the masses let out but of course we couldn’t find Duane.

Turns out he was battling a starling down by the river! (Tommy Boy voice. Anyone? Bueller?) His wife was gracious enough to steer him back our way for a couple of pictures — again, this guy hams for the camera, so that wasn’t an issue — before cutting the cake to feed to the (starving) masses.

(PS: that last comment was pure sarcasm. We ate often and well that entire day.)

While I didn’t get nearly the education actual attendees got that day, I was so thankful to be a part of this wonderful day and want to thank each and every speaker, MnSearch volunteer, the sponsors and all the great conference-goers for coming together to make this day a great one.


MnSEARCH president James Svoboda with speakers from the 2nd MNSummit in St. Paul MN

Also, a HUGE thank-you to the wonderful staff of the Rivercentre, who were professional, tidy, efficient and — most importantly — kept us fed with a never-ending onslaught of yummy snacks and drinks.

All in all, I’d say the second MnSearch Summit was a huge success. Can’t wait to see what next year brings!!!

Want to get in on all the online marketing goodness? Well, then…

become a MnSearch member!



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