Key Takeaways From Brighton SEO Conference

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I’m so glad I made it to the second Brighton SEO conference on Friday organised by Kelvin Newman of Site Visibility. With well over a hundred SEO peeps crammed into a room on the fifth floor of Community Base, with cans of Coke and bottles of water provided and the sound of seagulls cawing and cackling outside, this was no typical conference.

For a start, it was free to attend. That’s right: gratis. There were no handouts, no promotional banners and no suits – just a crowd of enthusiastic people hungry for knowledge and buzzing with the expectation that can only come from knowing you’re in the right place at the right time, at the coalface of an industry so new and changeable it takes your breath away.

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There were many of us tweeting during the afternoon, and I was asked by Clive Walker if I would summarise the key takeaways. Glad to. Although this summary is going to be selective and probably not all that brief, nevertheless I’m happy to share what I noted during the eight 15-minute presentations. (Was that really all there was?)

 

Kevin Gibbons, Director of Search, SEOptimise: 20 WordPress plugins to supercharge your blog

What a great start to the afternoon. There were plenty of plugins here that were new to me and sounded well worth investigating, from SEO Friendly Images (adds tags automatically when you forget to) to a Broken Links Checker, from an A/B Theme Testing Plugin to Yet Another Related Post.

 

Annabel Hodges – Head of Search & Analytics at …? (between jobs, apparently – about to take up a position with OMD) – When is an SEO campaign not an SEO campaign?

Annabel showed how in an agency setting when you work for the SEO team you’re often called in quite late in the day, and not only that but sometimes what’s required isn’t SEO at all but something more akin to social media.

Her first example was a series of educational microsites for Channel 4 which they needed to promote to teachers rather than just pupils, and the second was a campaign for New Look which resulted in the creation of ‘New Look TV’, a YouTube channel which ended up putting New Look into the SERPS in competition with the fashion media rather than cannabalising its own ecommerce results, thereby reaching a far wider audience.

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Mark Cook, Director of Search Marketing, Further – Making Accurate Traffic Predictions

This was the point when I started thinking ‘I may as well give up now’ – the sheer comprehensiveness of the operations he was describing, whereby his agency monitors SERPS on behalf of clients, was awe-inspiring. Let’s just say the live event feed was turned off at this point, in respect for the amount of detail being revealed! Mark’s starting point was that the Google Adwords keyword tool was completely unreliable. His advice was to use Google Insights, not its Traffic Estimator. What then followed I could tell you, but if I understood half of it they’d probably have to kill me.

Brighton SEO Conference Testimonials

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Sam Crocker, Lead SEO at Distilled – Using Competitions in SEO

As part of the ‘link building’ thread, Sam showed us an example of an equipment hire firm running a photography competition as a way of not only building community but of getting valuable links from mainstream and niche publications. A great tip he mentioned (if you’re going to ask for links) is to always ‘pre-heat the oven’ – build a relationship before asking for a link, don’t go in cold.

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Sam also emphasised that you need to be clear why you’re running a competition – for links, for engagement or for exposure? Each have different indicators for success and outreach. If you use Twitter to promote your competition, be sure to use the standard hashtags like #comp #competition etc. If all else fails a brand can always sponsor a competition. He also mentioned standard competition listings sites as not great quality but ‘no brainers’ in the style of good old directory sites. One of the questions for Sam was ‘what kinds of things make the best prizes – apart from the obvious, like ‘win an iPad’?’ His reply was ‘one that encourages people to return to the site after the competition has ended.’

Online free bets website Big Bonus Bets outlined how they increased there click through rate from Twitter be using emoticons and images.

 

Simon Dance, SEO Manager (UK) at Cheapflights – Linkbuilding & CM

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As one of only 2 clients (as opposed to agency types) in the room, Simon gave us a particularly interesting talk, sharing a fair bit about how Cheapflights runs its SEO activities (although he carefully made the point that all views expressed here are my own and not the company’s). Some of the tools he mentioned were :

Highrise, a useful contact management tool when keeping track of bloggers, Backpack (also for managing tasks) and Buzzstream, all tools for “building links in less time”. Simon also reminded us of the need to get on the phone and have a contact and follow up strategy (actually it may have been Sam who said this as it’s not clear from my notes!).

Brighton SEO Conference Testimonials : Part 2

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Rishi Lakhani, Search Marketing Consultant – Actually Making SEO Happen

This was one of the talks in the ‘Eye Openers’ strand, and it was certainly that. Rishi began by asking if anyone in the room had clients who spent 100k or more a month on SEO. One hand went up. “Porn, gambling..?” “No, travel.” The point of the talk was that there are companies that need to spend big money on SEO if they are to successfully dominate their market, but most do not. Rishi’s opening slide was of an expensive car with a bumper held together by sticky tape, saying that this is too often what happens to SEO – low priority, bare minumum, seat of pants stuff. He then went on to tell us that he’s not a great SEO himself, but his job is to persuade companies to find the damn money. “It’s no use complaining that your clients won’t or can’t pay for SEO,” he told us,”Because that’s your fault.” Basically the decision makers in business only care about one thing – the bottom line – and the only way to sell SEO is not to bang on about SERPS or keywords but to tell them very clearly what the difference will be in terms of profit. Sam Crocker was sitting next me and while Rishi was talking he murmured ‘Smart guy.’ Need I say more.

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Zach Colbert, Social Media Manager at White Hat Media – Lev Manovich’s theory of linking and association

In Zach’s presentation we were treated to a theoretical talk about whether hypertext is making us more stupid. My understanding of the argument was that hyperlinking limits and prescribes the associations we make in such a way that free association (something the brain does so well) is suppressed. Although I was interested in this, and wanted to ask a question (such as how has the theory evolved since 2000 or so when it was written), I sensed that the room was becoming tired and this was probably a theory too far for many people. I think Zach picked up on this as he fluctuated between obvious delight in his subject and a ‘whatever’ kind of insouciance.

Nichola Stott – Owner at theMediaflow – Challenging the conventional wisdom of anchor textAlice-Pai-ABC-audience

She admitted she had a tough gig – last on, everyone ready for the pub – but Nichola did a great job. She showed us the results of some work she’d done on measuring the correlation between keywords-in-anchor-text links and SERPS. Basically, sites that came top of the SERPS for a particular search phrase were found to have far fewer inbound anchor text links than those further down the results, leading her to suggest that you can have too many inbound links using keywords in the anchor text and that this may be classified by Google as a form of spam. Further research had revealed the sites doing better did have brand names appear more often in anchor text. It was an interesting study, and food for thought. If you’re interested to see the tweetstream from this event it’s at #brightonSEO… many thanks again to Kelvin Newman for organising, this was a really brilliant afternoon.