Reflections on #BrightonSEO
I rolled up to Brighton yesterday afternoon to partake in the BrightonSEO mini conference organised by Kelvin Newman of SiteVisibility. It was an afternoon of presentations looking and discussing various aspects of SEO and online marketing.
I wrote a few notes as the day went on, and below is a brief overview of all the areas discussed.
First up was Jamie Freeman, from Message Digital, a self confessed SEO sceptic. I’d been amused by the premise of an SEO sceptic talking at an afternoon of SEO presentations and was quite intrigued by what he was saying.
He’d written a book with 500 web design tips (no mean feat that), and talked about what he considered to be the “Holy Trinity of SEO”, the 3 C’s – Content, Code and Connections (links).
Jamie didn’t really see the need to do SEO as the sites thathe made ranked well using compliant code, with good content and links seemed to happen in their own right. I can see what he is getting at, but things got a little hairy when he asked which of the the 3 was the most important – with the room being full of SEOs, the answers was of course Links, which Jamie disagreed with, as he felt the content was the most important
Some lively debate ensued, with the SEOs in the audience further explaining that tens or hundreds of websites can have great content on a subject – and in many scenarios this is a given – but the majority of the audience felt that in a competitive environment, content alone will not normally be enough to get to those top monetisable positions.
Next up was Andy Keetch from Wired Sussex, an organisation that helps people find the right Digital companies in the area. Andy talked a lot about the Digital Community in Brighton, how they help people find jobs and graduate opportunities in the area, helping organise social events. I was surprised to learn that they work with the region of 1500 companies and it sounded like a very organised community to be a part of, in an area of the country that has a thriving scene.
Whilst there are plenty of Web and Digital Agencies in Portsmouth and elsewhere in Hampshire, there is nothing (that I know of) organised like this in the Hampshire area and it was very interesting to hear how they go about helping that community in so many ways.
Next up was me, from Vertical Leap – I was talking about client goals, KPIs and managing client expectations. I was incredibly nervous at first and spent a bit too much time reading the cards I’d prepared the day before, but after I relaxed a bit more and stopped looking at my prompts I was a lot more confident, and I think my message came across well.
I was talking about the need to really understand a clients “real” reason to engage with an SEO Company – it’s to make money. How that website makes money, and the routes that it takes to make that money differ and the strategies that you put in place to achieve those goals differ – but all it comes down to the bottom line in the end.
I talked about many of the long term relationships I have formed with my clients, and how communicating effectively with your clients about the wins that you gain them were vital.
Clients often have goals to increase rankings for particular phrases, or to hit certain traffic targets, but these are measures that are a means to the end result of making money. Many times, these may be specific goals that you work to for a client as part of a long term strategy, but that ultimately you need to have some short term goals as well to ensure that you are delivering some kind of return on an investment as soon as possible.
I think after battling my nerves I managed to deliver the message of what I was trying to say effectively enough, and have certainly learnt some lessons for future speaking from doing this. I will definitely make a Powerpoint presentation next time, I will just try and speak rather than attempt to read from a prompt and I will try and relax more. I definitely enjoyed it though, and had some good feedback from people as we discussed the days presentations later on.
I really liked his SEO is like a racing car analogy – you can have the best car and driver (website changes – on site optimisation), but that doesn’t mean you will always win a race (the link building part of SEO). He also interacted well with the audience offering an alcoholic prize for the best “worst thing a client has asked you”, but seemed rather disappointed when one of his own employees one the audiences loudest cheer.
Next up was Cedric from Jollywise, talking about some really interesting social media techniques for films like Up and The Boat That Rocked. It seemed like they had some good ways of getting social engagement with Banner adverts as well and it was fascinating to get an insight into some other areas of Digital Marketing that I have not really looked at before.
Steve Purkiss stood up next and gave a demonstration of an SEO Checklist for Drupal – this seemed like a really useful way of ensuring that you have the right modules required to do SEO well with this content management system – I liked the quote of “Obama uses it, it must be good!”.
The next talk was about “cookies” from Nikki Rae of Fresh Egg. This was a really entertaining presentation, that had plenty of audience interaction with me, Paddy Morgan from Pin Digital (who must win the award for travelling the furthest – all the way from Birmingham!), Annabel Hodges (better know to me as SearchPanda), Mark from Fresh Egg and Anna from MAD taking part in a demonstration of how cookies (which Paddy got to eat) go from the person browsing to a website to a sever and back again.
I must confess to not really having the greatest knowledge of cookies and found this a really interesting introduction about them. It was certainly interesting.
The last of the main speakers was Jack from Propellernet, who was taking the opportunity to show off some fantastic new offices they have moved to, with some really good Graffiti artwork. He then talked about how he formed the company and I particularly liked the phrase “block out the noise – focus on the clients”. I was also quite interested in their somewhat different approach to SEO with very tight integration with traditional PR techniques.
After the main speakers were complete, Kelvin then thanked everyone for coming along and mentioned that one more person wanted to speak – in regards to an NDA that had been floating around in recent weeks and introduced a chap called Paul that wanted to speak to us. I don’t know that this is necessarily being widely talked about yet, but I’ve never agreed to not disclose it, so here I go.
Paul explained about his background – he was a blackhat that had controlled millions of millions of links in the past and had used that to propel sites to the very top positions for highly monetisable phrases. He then went on to explain that he was now working with a large number of national and regional Newspapers across the UK and US, and essentially they have had enough of Google taking all the advertising revenues that they have over the years been used to receiving and think they have found a way to “fight back”.
As I understood what was being proposed (and this might be slightly misinterpreted), is that the Newspapers have millions on pages that they don’t gain traffic from anymore, and they are prepared to sell links on these pages, with anchors that you want and large volumes of them – in an effort to a) make the newspapers some cash, and b) manipulate Google’s rankings to gain those websites traffic. As I understand it, this is being planned on a particularly large scale, and I think that we were being offered the opportunity to take part.
I’m not convinced that Paul selected the right audience to talk to about this. Many people in the room had not engaged in buying links at all, and whilst all the SEOs in the room agreed that Newspaper links as a rule do a carry a lot of weight, it seemed agreed that they might not do in the foreseeable future were this to come out in the open.
Paul’s thrust on this was that many journalists have lost their jobs in recent years because of the rise of the Internet and the amount of “free” content that gets put out on the web – often without the “standards” that journalists have to adhere to.
I think that whilst the concept sounds interesting (and quite possibly expensive), that this surely, once out in the open, has very little chance of success in the long term. When Paul discussed his sites, he seemed to be prepared to throw them away if they crashed and burned in the SERPs, but with my clients and their brands that they want to establish for long term success, not take risks for short term gains. If everything he said was true – it sounded effective, but certainly not long term strategies.
All in all, it was a great day and a great evening!
If you were there, and I’ve missed anything important, please feel free to leave a comment!