Our team of SEO experts virtually attended Search Marketing Expo (SMX) in early December to learn from the best and brightest minds in PPC and SEO. We combined those learnings with our experience from working every day with SEO to give you a round-up of our 2020 SEO takeaways.

We have three parts in this series. Part one is from myself, the PPC and SEO expert in our Copenhagen office. Part two is from Matthew Margey, a Search Consultant in our Toronto office. Part three is from Rick Elenbaas, a Digital Marketing Consult in our Sydney office.

The only constant in marketing is change, even more so in 2020. The focus of SMX is to educate digital marketing professionals by giving insights into the latest tactics that will help generate more traffic, leads, conversions, and sales.

It’s safe to say that the events of 2020 have driven an unprecedented number of users from brick-and-mortar locations to the digital world, giving search marketers the opportunity to reach new customers in engaging ways and deliver remarkable digital experiences.

What the future holds for SEO and the SEO community

SMX kicked off with a keynote fireside chat between Search Engine Land's Ginny Marvin and Areej AbuAli, SEO Manager of Zoopla and the founder of the Women in Tech SEO community, and the winner of Search Engine Land Award for Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in Search Marketing.

The session covered topics such as the effects of Google moving into new verticals, SERP changes, roles, and diversity in search marketing.

Areej encouraged more people to speak up about the value of diversity. Women account for roughly 30% of SEO professionals globally — a percentage that hasn’t budged in five years. There’s also a pay gap of roughly 14% between men and women.  

Among other things, the session also covered how important it is to get the buy-in from designers and developers you work with as an SEO. As Areej said “they’re going to be your closest allies and friends.”

Your collaboration with them should start at the very beginning, as they are the ones who can assess the workload involved as you create an SEO strategy.

An epic ads automation debate: RSAs vs ETAs

Automation has had a dramatic effect (for better or worse) on how Google Ads users manage and measure their campaigns. This session featured Brad Geddes and Frederick Vallaeys debating the effectiveness of responsive search ads vs expanded text ads.  

Personally, I am not a big fan of using automation in Google Ads, as I’ve heard conflicting things about the usefulness of it. One of the main reasons why I found this session very interesting is because the debate was backed up by real data, and lots of it.

After analyzing over 5,500 Google Ads accounts, Frederick came to the conclusion that on average Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) outperform Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). In addition to that, the most important finding that Frederik shared was that RSAs and ETAs are equally likely to be the best ad format in an ad group.

While the data speaks volumes, I think the biggest takeaway from this is that you need to test out RSAs & ETAs, as they are capable of being great ads and they deserve a chance in any account. 

In case you decide to go ahead and test them out, keep in mind that RSAs with this format tend to do best, as Brad shared:  

  • 2 headlines relevant to the ad group
  • 2 headline calls to action
  • 2 headline benefit statements (can also be authority or proof statement)
  • Legal: if you have legal restrictions, be careful of RSAs or pin your disclaimer
  • 2-3 descriptions 

SEO + accessibility in 2021: Your roadmap for a stronger user experience

Siteimprove also had a speaking slot at SMX, where Diane Kulseth (our very own Senior SEO Consultant) talked about the importance of accessibility on your website from a search engine perspective.

Nearly 61 million people in the U.S. (26% of the population) have some form of disability that prevents them from accessing standard web content. With Google poised to launch a user experience update in 2021, how can you be assured that your website will perform well if you’re not addressing the 26% of potential visitors unable to access your content?  

First and foremost, the main reason why you should prioritize accessibility it’s because it’s the right thing to do. Everyone should be able to access your content online.

Now, looking at it from an SEO perspective, Diane has done a fantastic job summarizing why it's more important than ever to include accessibility in your SEO arsenal, and what are the main points to keep in mind:

 A screen shot of Diane's key takeaways

If you haven’t worked with accessibility before and are curious how your site is performing, you can start by using Siteimprove’s Web Accessibility checker. The tool allows gives you a quick overview of your accessibility score and areas for improvement for any given webpage.

Small budget tactics that pack a serious punch

Just because you don’t have a large budget to use in Google Ads, that doesn’t mean you can’t run effective campaigns—that’s what Amalia Fowler shared during her session. There are so many strategies and best practices out there for advertisers that can afford to spend a large budget, but what do you do if you have a smaller budget for your ads?

The first thing that Amalia pointed out is that the “Quality score is the low budget advertisers’ best friend” and I couldn’t agree more. Not only does it evaluate the quality and relevance of both your keywords and ads, but it also plays a crucial role in determining your cost per click (CPC). By optimizing your Quality Score, you’re setting yourself up for higher return on investment.

What’s another way to make sure you effectively spend your budget? Maximize your returns where you know they exist, by optimizing little things, which can add up together to make something significant. This is what you should keep in mind, according to Amalia:


  • Small budgets mean you can’t do as much as you want
  • Plan your account structure carefully


  • Locations, Audiences


  • Impression Share, Exclusions, Trends & Comparisons

Adapt, Accept

  • Find solutions to what Google throws at you

I hope you find these key learnings from SMX helpful as you launch your 2021 SEO strategy.

Check out part two of this series by Matthew Margey, a Search Consultant in our Toronto office, or part three from Rick Elenbaas, a Digital Marketing Consult in our Sydney office.