SMX day one. SMX has raised the bar for valuable, applicable content. This day was outstanding and if I had to put a theme on the sessions I attended, it would be the future of search. From the growth of direct answers and SERP domination to modern eye tracking and the terrifyingly fantastic app that is Google Now, search is staring down the future. SMX picked an incredible line up of speakers for these sessions.

The day began with Eric Enge, Bill Slawski, and Ehren Reilly on The Growth of Direct Answers. Key takeaways:

Eric Enge and Stonetemple did a large study on how often Google returns direct answers for queries that could benefit from them. For the complete study, visit

  • 82% of the results used ellipses to prompt click through
  • 25% used direct answer with knowledge graph
  • 5.2 k had a form like calories/serving or mortgage calculator
  • 33 examples had a chart like GDP of China
  • 4.8k had a carousel like Red Sox roster
  • 25% did not include proper attribution

Bill Slawski shared an interesting research paper by Google: ‘Biperpedia: An Ontology for Search’ as well as some insights from his monitoring of patents.

  • Google posted a patent for “looking for authoritative answers to natural language questions”
  • They defined “authoritative answers” as sites that are “frequently occurring and consistently rank for subject matter”
  • Answers tend to be lists with headings
  • Tabular data might be shown in a snippet related to a page
  • Facts like Obama’s birthday don’t need attribution; that may be why Eric’s research found 25% of results didn’t include attribution.

Ehren Reilly then shared some tips for optimizing direct answers as marketers:

  • Examples of easy answers are: IP address, weather, exchange rates…
  • So what if we have unique, original content?
  • Started seeing this happening with salaries. They were #1 but others jumped up to the direct answer.
  • Their site was better for users, but didn’t have the answer to the question written out in natural language.
  • By changing the way the data was presented, just slightly, to provide the answer in natural language, they jumped into the Direct Answer spot. (Interesting aside here: Barry Schwartz and I both tried to find that result live and were unable to, indicating that spot may be highly variable)

Ehren’s Advice:

  • Find the formula
  • Create the sentence that formulates the info in that way.
  • Get the click vs no click at all
  • Be flexible, expect change.

As is typical for me, I took really detailed notes in the first session and then slacked in others, but the rest of my day was no less exciting and eye opening.


Next I went on to the session Eye Tracking Update, featuring Matt Agtarap and Gord Hotchkiss.

There were a lot of extremely good slides and visuals in this session, so you should download the deck. The most significant takeaway from this session for me was that eye tracking behavior changed dramatically depending on the type of search query intent.

  • Navigational queries saw the most heat on the page at the specific link, and paid or other areas were largely ignored.
  • Informational queries focused most of the heat on the left side, largely ignoring the right rail, and showed scanning behavior down the list of results… Indicated a desire to find the “best” result instead of just the first one.
  • Finally, they found that for all types of queries, there was still a marked preference for organic results, and that in most cases, people skipped past paid ads and carousels, even images, looking for the first organic result.

I found this session most interesting because as an SEO, I spend a fair amount of time on optimizing titles and descriptions as they appear in search. Based on this data, I’m pretty glad to see that’s likely not wasted effort.


After lunch, I moved on to Google Now and the Predictive Search World. Cindy Krum of Mobile Moxie absolutely killed this session, sharing a ton of screenshots and data about how Google Now, Google’s predictive search app, has integrated itself into our lives and the types of information it collects and provides back in a predictive manner. Just a few examples:

  • Google sees you’re out and about to miss your favorite show – they send you a reminder and a link to download the episode on Google play
  • GPS shows you just parked your car and set off on foot. G Now gives you a “card” that shows where you parked
  • You added a flight to your calendar. G Now pulls out your flight info and displays it for you on your home screen.

And example after example. What really blew my mind though, is that she shared this link: which is a list of markup that email advertisers can include in their emails so that if the user has gmail, they can get reminders – of events, sales, limited time offers ending…


Even further along the terrifying “Google knows all about us” is the number of other apps it already works with. Everything from eBay to Lyft can tell you things in G Now like when your auction is ending or how much it will cost to hire a car to take you to your next destination.


After this session, I think it’s time for Google to change the name of the app from Google Now to Google Know.


Unfortunately I had to leave that session before the other two speakers finished, and while I caught part of Dr Pete’s Guide to the Changing SERPS (again, download the deck!), I wasn’t able to catch all of another session.


Overall, mind blowing first day, and I have to throw in another shout out here… The best wifi coverage and uptime (100%) of any conference I’ve ever attended. And yummy food too.

Hey, did you know:
Halley’s Comet ( is named after Edmond Halley.