Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

This year Digital Zone 16 (formerly known as SEO Zone) was held at the Radisson Blue Hotel, in Şişli, İstanbul. The ZEO team did a great job in making sure everything was picture perfect.

The line-up was packed with prominent figures from the search industry such as Rand Fishkin, Wil Reynolds, Gary Illyes, Andre Alpar or Brian Dean.

Keyword Research: The Secret Expert Techniques You Need to Know – Judith Lewis


First in line was Judith Lewis (Huffington Post) – an ex Black-Hat spammer as she likes to joke about herself. I first saw Judith a year ago, at SEMdays in Bucharest, where she had the best keynote of the day in my opinion. She had an entirely different approach in her presentation. She shifted from regular fairytale-speeches about how you just earn your links and obey Google guidelines to a speech where she addressed real problems SEOs encounter in their campaigns. She even had some slides that she didn’t show until she was assured no photos were being taken.

Her Digital Zone presentation was about keyword research and the shift from keywords to topics. Her first advice was to stop using obsolete SEO techniques like microsites and keyword stuffing and to focus more on generating valuable content for users. Judith emphasized the need to understand what people commonly call your product and to find ways that people describe what you are selling. You can do that by browsing through online communities such as Reddit or Quora.

Next, she advised us to take a look at our competitors and look at their tactics, steal their ideas but also improve on what they are doing. Understanding your audience is of the essence while the primary goal is becoming the thought leader in your space.

Up next she recommends that the content we publish answers the questions the audience might address in a query. This piece of advice is similar to what Marcus Tober, CTO, and Founder of Searchmetrics, promotes as “Holistic Content” in his latest slide decks. (1) (2). Judith recommends sites such as or to figure out what users are searching related to your product.

She ended her speech presenting an alternative way of mapping keywords using The XY Chart Labeler order to create a scatter graph in Excel.

kewyword tools
A bunch of keyword tools that Judith suggested …



How to Measure Your Digital Marketing Investments Without Pain – Yiğit Konur


Next in line was ZEO’s founder, Yiğit Konur, to talk about automatization through custom dashboards. Yiğit mentioned all three available types of dashboards: Excel dashboards, standalone apps, and the cloud software dashboards.

His presentation took the participants on a step by step journey in creating a customized cloud software dashboard with Klipfolio. He used different data vendors to extract the data he needs – Google Analytics, Google Search Console, SEOmonitor, SEMrush, Searchmetrics, Moz, Google Adwords, Search Analytics for sheets and Seer SEO toolbox.

You can find the slide decks here >>


How Marketers Can Keep up with Google in 2016 – Rand Fishkin


The third speaker to step on the stage was also the highlight of the conference: Rand Fishkin – founder and wizard of MOZ. He started his speech by describing how Google and SERPs have changed in the past few years. He mentioned that spotting ten blue results in SERPs has become as rare as spotting a snow leopard in the wild and that the paid ads are becoming more subtle in order to “steal” traffic from the non-paid links. He continued his speech by showing us how clicks are distributed between organic and non-organic links and how in some cases Google Snippets generate queries with no clicks at all (ex: weather).

Sometimes position zero in SERPs brings more traffic even if the answer is provided in the snippet.

Rand’s tips to keep up with Google in 2017

#1 – Diversify Traffic to Keep Earning Visits from Google
The most important takeaways from this section are the suggestion to publish your content on the right platform for your SERPs and the advice to align your content with what searchers are seeking.

#2 Create a Link Strategy That Scales with Decreasing Friction
Rand suggests that when we elaborate an off-page strategy, we establish link goals, a strategic approach, tactical initiatives and KPI metrics. You can find below the strategy of the Istanbul bookstore that Rand gave as an example for an easier understanding of this strategy.

Great link builders focus on their flywheels

Rand shares some insight on how to effectively release a self-reinforcing effect for your SEO results.


#3 Search Engagement May Be the New Silver Bullet in Rankings
Rand reiterates his opinion that pogo sticking, bounce rate and short clicks/long clicks are an important factor in the current Google Algorithm.

You can find the slide decks here >>



How to Make SEO Work for Boss, Your Customer, and Google – Wil Reynolds


Wil Reynolds is the founder and director of digital strategy of Seer Interactive. Since 2002 he is helping his clients build traffic and make money with methods that have shaped the search industry worldwide. While most of the people at Digital Zone had high expectations from Rand Fishkin, it was Wil who had the best keynote.

While everyone is obsessed to figure out how Google works, Wil thinks that it would be a lot more useful skill to understand how people think in regards to queries. He also reminded us that marketing amplifies, it doesn’t fix. That’s why we don’t see picnic pants anywhere although they were promoted. They are not a solution because nobody wants to eat off their crotch.

During his speech he also emphasized on user intent and optimizing for a better organic CTR. By the end of the conference, at least four speakers (Judith, Wil, Rand and Brian) would have mentioned the importance of user intent and engagement metrics. I think it’s as clear as day that this should be everyone’s focus in 2016 and 2017 besides traditional activities such as link building and technical SEO.

Wil kept the audience engaged whole way through his keynote with his charismatic style. He tried to demonstrate how SERPs have changed recently due to user intent with an excellent example – the “Wil Reynolds” query in Google. There used to be only pictures of him but somewhere along the line the pictures of a male model popped up in Google Images and Google Search. Realizing that some people were looking for pictures of that guy that was also called Wil Reynolds, Google adjusted the search results accordingly.

Find the root of the customer’s problem: Look past head term keywords

The best piece of advice that Wil gave to the audience was just to look at the SERPs and see what ranks for a specific term because that’s what users want and that’s the type of content that Google is going to place on the first page. We have been using this technique for quite a while, especially for an online tea shop. We noticed that there are some queries where Google ranks online tea shops, but if we are talking about some tea that has enormous benefits for the human body, Google ranks holistic content that describes the effects of the respective tea. So it would be a waste of time to try and optimize and send links to the category page when what we had to do was to create great content about that tea that would rank and insert clear CTA to the respective category page to direct visitors where we want them.

Wil went on to show us a case study where only by tweaking the META descriptions and the META titles he managed to improve organic CTR from 1.79% to 69.62% and retain the first spot in Google. Maybe we should pay more attention to our META descriptions as they are a gateway to more traffic with our actual rankings. Moreover, if CTR is a direct/indirect ranking factor our rankings could also benefit from this.

The example given was for wedding dresses. The old descriptions were dull. They simply added “2016” to express that the products were modern and “gorgeous” to express a feeling.

You can find the slide decks here >>



Google’s New Set of Ranking Factors – Brian Dean


Brian founded the online marketing blog Backlinko in 2010. Nowadays, nearly 100,000 visitors a month visit his blog in search of actionable content designed to help them get more traffic, leads and customers.

As the title of the keynote suggests, Brian focused on explaining the importance of the new Google ranking factors such as bounce rate or CTR in the current Google Algorithm. When Brian first published the “How to get high-quality backlinks” article he noticed that he started to rank for queries like “How to get high” among other websites with various stories on how to get stoned. It wasn’t long until the website started to drop in rankings on this term and that’s when he realized that probably users were going back into the SERPs after accessing his site because they were looking for drug related articles. This user behavior is called a short click/pogo-sticking.

Some of his takeaways were:

  • use compelling META titles and descriptions to increase CTR
  • influence searchers to perform keyword + brand queries
  • format articles with headings, subheadings, quotes to make it easier for visitors to skim and read the content

For more tips from Brian on how to your CTR you should check out this article.


From Keywords to Topics: Semantic Keyword Research – Cosmin Negrescu


The 7th speaker of the first day was SEOmonitor’s very own – Cosmin Negrescu. He is the founder and CEO of both the app and the digital agency currently known as Upswing. Cosmin started the keynote with a lovely story of how he noticed that for different queries from the same topic, Google returned the same results. He used concrete examples to demonstrate that if you rank well for a particular query, then you will rank in the same manner for almost all of the queries from that topic.

The attendees of Digital Zone were given a code that granted them lifetime access to our SEO monitor’s newest tool – The Topic Explorer. The slogan of this tool is “Not another keyword tool” and it couldn’t be more accurate and I will explain why. The engine links more than 1 billion keywords semantically and not just by phrase patterns.

The Topic Explorer helps SEO professionals shift from keywords to topics and understand the size of entire markets or niches. You can even use it for outreach purposes because you can easily find relevant blogs and publishing websites that are authoritative on that particular topic.



How to do SEO Split Testing – Tom Anthony


The last speaker of the day (but not least) was Tom Anthony – Head of Research & Development at Distilled. The speakers from Distilled always deliver astounding speeches that provide actionable takeaways. Take Hannah Smith for example, last fall at SEMdays in Bucharest… she had a top-notch keynote about content and how to make people share your content.

Tom’s performance was great, but it was mainly focused on the DistilledODN A/B testing platform. He advised the attendees to test SEO recommendations and not to believe Google blindly. To prove his point he told us a hilarious story: In 1995 a bank robber hit two Pittsburgh banks in broad daylight without wearing a mask. It was within minutes that he was recognized and police came knocking on his door. When he was asked why he didn’t try to hide his identity he incredulously replied: “But I wore the juice.” He was neither high nor delusional he just rubbed lemon juice on his face to make it invisible to security cameras because he was sure lemon juice was an invisible ink.

Furthermore, Tom proved that we are all bad at judging how well a website should rank based on various metrics that we know hinting again that it’s better to test and test and test…

In the following screenshots he described how a basic A/B manual SEO testing should be performed:

To find out more about automated A/B SEO tests or check out some interesting case studies check his slide decks or the DistilledODN website.

You can find the slide decks here >>



I can’t end this post without a proper shoutout to the whole ZEO team for the hard work they have put in this event but none the less for being a perfect host. Istanbul grew on me each day spent there, and I have to admit it is a magnificent city full of lovely people.