Death Care Takeaways from the Leading Google Search Conference in 2024 (MozCon)

Photo of MozCon from @YouCanBeFound

What is MozCon and How Does It Relate to the Funeral Industry?

Last week I was at MozCon, the premier meeting of digital marketers and SEO leaders. It’s always an inspiring venue to hear from major industry players and explore the latest trends in digital marketing. Representatives from the leading advertising agencies and the marketing teams from Fortune 500 companies are all there.

At a personal level, I’m genuinely interested in the information being shared at these conferences. On the professional side, these events are crucial places for staying at the cutting edge of digital marketing. We can’t provide best in class results if we don’t stay up to date and educated on the latest developments in the world of search engine marketing. Of course, not everything at a conference as large as this one is directly applicable to the funeral industry. That’s why I’ve distilled some of the most important information into a death-care specific report.

MozCon 2024: Conference Report for Funeral Directors

It should come as no surprise that AI was a major topic at MozCon, but it’s hardly the only important topic in SEO. Below, I’ll summarize five key takeaways that funeral directors should be aware of.

The Current State of AI

AI has gotten significantly better within the last year. Anyone who has used ChatGPT knows that it can quickly produce acceptable results with very little effort from the user. At this point it still takes a ton of work to get AI to produce truly original results. Based on the way that large language models (LLMs) are trained, they struggle to produce content with a strong point of view. (Changing this is actually a significant technical challenge.)

The emergence of ChatGPT has led to the quest to be its answer for specific queries. (Just like SEO strives to get your site as the top result on Google, the same incentives make it useful to be ChatGPT’s answer.) What ChatGPT views as important is much more volatile than how Google assesses quality. You can work to become ChatGPT’s answer for one specific query and still be nowhere to be found on a close variation. Perhaps more worrying, these results are not very stable. You might be the answer today but not tomorrow. AI results optimization is still in its infancy and will likely change as the LLMs continue to be tweaked.

In terms of search and SEO, AI is making waves. Google’s recent rollout of AI powered search results via Gemini has shown the limitations of the current technology. Typically, when you searched for something, the top results on Google were useful and true. In their hurry to add AI to search, they got out over their skis and launched a product that wasn’t ready. The AI results were often comically bad, like telling you how much glue to add to your pizza. For localized queries, the AI results were even worse. The answers often made up things (“hallucinated” in the euphemistic parlance of AI) like recommending businesses that don’t exist. Because of these problems, Google has recently limited their rollout of AI search. It’s clear that generative AI-powered search results are coming, but it’s not clear just how soon they’ll be as good as the current results.

AI Outlook

It should go without saying that I can’t predict the future, but it is possible to predict some trends in AI. With massive investment into all facets of AI, it’s clear that the models will continue to get better and better.

Generative AI is great at answering informational queries. You can expect better and better results for questions like “How hot is the furnace during cremation?” It’s also particularly well-suited to repetitive or formulaic tasks, like basic email correspondence or writing obituaries. AI-powered tools will increasingly be integrated into existing products in order to make workflows more efficient.

Google Leak

The hottest topic in SEO for the last few weeks has been an unprecedented leak of 2500 internal documents from Google that relate to the way Google collects information that may be used for search rankings. Google has always been extremely secretive about how their algorithm works, so SEO folks have had a field day going through this veritable treasure trove of information. While some of the specifics are quite technical, the main takeaway is that Google might have been using some data points as ranking factors even though they said they weren’t. The lesson is that the SEO industry as a whole should probably be more critical of what Google says and also be more self-critical in the way we have sometimes just parroted Google’s official positions.

Advancements in SEO

SEO remains relevant. About 44% of all search clicks go to organic search results. That means SEO is responsible for almost half of traffic from Google. Traffic is still growing with about 15% of searches being unique at all times. This means that there is still plenty of opportunity to get in front of new users.

One of the most important things for funeral directors to understand is that  local results are here to stay. A significant percentage of all searches are for local businesses, places, services, etc. Google understands this and is continuing to prioritize local results for local queries.

That being said, strengthening your own brand is becoming more important. Google used to convey trust by proxy. (If your site ranked well it was seen as credible.) That is increasingly less true. Trust has to be increasingly built by the brands themselves. And this is where AI comes in. AI has made it a lot easier to create content. In order to stick out, funeral homes need to go the extra mile to stay ahead of the competition. The bar has risen for quality content. Brands that understand that can use it as a competitive advantage.

Where is the Industry Headed?

The SEO industry is at a crossroads. The fundamental information problem has not changed: how do we get my site/business/product to be the featured answer when people search for a certain set of terms? Changes to search and the introduction of a bevy of consumer AI products has shaken the technical landscape of SEO. SEO tricks that worked last year might not work today.

One of the problems with search results today is that too much of the highest ranking content is over-optimized. (Just think about the last time you searched for a recipe and had to read someone’s life story before you got to the actual recipe. Google’s ranking algorithm likes all that extraneous information even if users don’t.) AI is actually pretty good at getting you the answers for these queries.

The SEO opportunity in an AI-powered world is all about making useful content. That means content with a real point of view. Google has a particular point of view about what sites are important for certain types of queries. LLMs don’t necessarily have the same point of view. The AI companies are currently signing licensing deals with all manner of news publishers and social media sites. That means each LLM is sourcing its information from different corners of the internet. An expanded omni-channel social media strategy will likely become more important for funeral homes and other businesses. That means now is a great time to grow your presence on Facebook/Instagram, Yelp, Reddit, and other sites. (Doing this now may have a competitive advantage in the future.)