Looking forward to #BrightonSEO

Well, its been 5 months since the last one – and we are now just a few days away from the next #BrightonSEO even. Mercifully I am not speaking this time, and the beginning part with the presentations not being in a pub this time, I may well manage to stay a little bit longer this time.

The full line up of the July BrightonSEO speakers is available now over at SiteVisibility, and there is a cracking line up of people to be listenig to and engaging with.

There are a few folks that I am particularly looking forward to here – I’m very much looking forward to hearing Nichola Stott talking about “Challenging the Conventional Wisdom of Anchor Text” as well as getting to meet the lady too, after almost a year of talking regularly on Twitter.

I’m certainly interested in Zachary Colbert’s talk on “Lev Manovich’s theory of Linking & Association”, although I don’t really have a clue what it is about. I got a fleeting chance to talk to Zac at the last event and hope to be able to chat some more again.

Another interesting topic that I am looking to hear about is “When is an SEO Campaign not an SEO Campaign” from Anabel Hodges.

There are plenty more of cracking looking presentations no doubt to be seen over the course of the day, with a very interesting, authorative panel of presenters lined up for us – and as well as that I’m sure everyone will be looking forward to getting to the traditinal home of #BrightonSEO (well so far anyway) the Quadrant, where even more serious chatting will no doubt be had over a bevvie or two.

I’m hoping to take some notes and get them into a post a bit like my previous reflections on brightonseo post after the last one.

And once again, thanks again to Kelvin Newman of SiteVisibility for putting all the effort in to organising this again 🙂

Becoming a Leader

Its now 4 years ago that I graduated from university with a degree in Entertainment Technology from Portsmouth, finishing with a 2:1, although I was agonisingly close to a 1st (69.7 was my final grade).

I was immensely fortunate, that upon graduating I got the very first job that I applied for, as a trainee SEO at Vertical Leap, and on the 1st August, I will celebrating 4 years working in the industry.

In the time that I have worked at Vertical Leap, I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of amazing people to learn SEO from (as well as learning many lessons on life) and seen a tremendous amount of growth in the company. In the time I’ve been here we’ve outgrown2 office already and seem to be swiftly filling up our new one too (though there is still plenty of room for us to grow further).

When we first moved in to these offices, we almost had enough space for a kick about with a football, whereas now we are getting to a stage where we need to think carefully about how to use that space.

In those 4 years, staff have come and gone, as they do, and I have looked to step up to the plate every time it was necessary for me to take on responsibility.

From starting as a trainee SEO, with no real knowledge of the subject (although my degree did supply me with a host of related skills), I have worked hard, kept my head down, retained as many of my clients as possible and done what I can to grow as a person into a bigger role in the company.

Around 18 months to 2 years ago, I was made Team Leader of the growing SEO department at Vertical Leap.

In my previous post, I alluded to this being a bit rubbish title, which was meant to be a joke, although with the pain I felt inside when writing that post, I don’t think that was particularly clear.

A title isn’t really very important in my opinion. I think mine at the moment is somewhat wordy “SEO Team Leader – Campaign Delivery Manager”. Suffice to say, I don’t use that in my email signature!

As I say, a title isn’t very important – what is important is how you fulfil that role.

As Vertical Leap has grown & we employ more staff in the SEO department, the more my role has grown too.

When I first started at Vertical Leap, I was entrusted with a small number of clients, and as my confidence and ability grew, I took on more responsibilities, more campaigns and helped the company generate more revenue.

We launched a blog on the site, and I am one of the more regular writers on the VL search marketing blog (I’m not THE most regular writer, though I do write more than many).

I now have to spend not inconsiderable amounts of time with new staff – teaching them the “Vertical Leap” way, showing them how we utilise our campaign management tool Apollo and ensuring that we treat our clients consistently well and do everything you can to keep them happy – understanding their goals for a campaign.

At first, these extra responsibilities did not come easily, but over the last year in particular I have done my best to do right by my team and help the, to help themselves in their own development – just like I was helped by those that came before me.

Around a year ago, I was also challenged to become better known in the industry – as I’d been doing all this great work for my clients and concentrating on getting things done.

At first I wasn’t sure how to achieve this – and I was left scratching my head about it for some time.

I decided first to start talking to the rest of the SEO community on Twitter – a great place to exchange ideas and techniques , whilst also a platform for some fun exchanges with some other interesting people, and believe to a certain extent I have achieved this goal (although I’m not going to rest on my laurels just yet).

I’ve also looked to put myself about a bit more at industry events – initially with the local Brighton SEO events, but hopefully extending myself a bit further around the country if suitable opportunities present themselves.

Doing all of these things takes hard work and determination – just working the 9-5 hours aren’t sufficient for me to achieve the goals that have been set for me, and buy me.

Clearly, as can be seen from my last post – things in life can affect the course you are trying to take – and there are going to be bumps in the road.

But nothing worth having in life is ever easy – so I will continue to work hard to achieve my goals in life and be more of the person those close to me, need me to be.

Time keeps on slipping…

I need a device that pauses time. In my work and personal life, time keeps on slipping away…

It’s been months since I’ve written a credible blog on here (tho I have started a recipes blog in that time, which has a few posts), and I never find the time to do things in the evening that I want to be doing – mostly because evenings are my work ‘research’ time…

Life is busy, and as more commitments are added to work and personal life, it adds to that slippage.

At work I’m the ‘team leader’ of the seo department. I think I’d like a better title than that, although I guess that isn’t for me to decide.

Essentially, whilst I don’t have to concern myself with the human resources issues of the staff, I am in charge of making sure everyone services their clients properly and fully, and I’m charge of the way that we approach seo.

Despite this, I also have a full portfolio of clients to manage as well as being responsible for our companies seo, although I don’t always have the control over that, that I would like. I’m not going to gloat about it here, but there are some things that we are doing pretty well for at the moment, although I have targets for improving this further.

In my personal life at the moment, my partner for the last 7 years (well almost, it’s our anniversary next month) has had to deal with an immense amount of problems with her back, as well as starting a new job, having finally escaped the shop floor at HMV, she is now an artworker at b&q’s head office, finally landing the role with graphics she has been seeking since returning from her round the world travels.

She does love the job, although the commute can clearly be a drag. Still, she’s learning fast how to drive (I’ve never had a lesson in my almost 28 years of life :s ) and that should make life easier. It might stop the question ‘when are we moving to southampton’ being asked 😉 (quite so frequently).

But it’s her back that really causes her problems. Mich is the same age as me, 27, but for the 8 or 9 years we have known one another, her back has been in a serious decline.

It is hard seeing the ones you love in pain, and being utterly helpless in the face of it.

Mich has what seems to be an uncurable condition in her lower back, which 2 years ago when she had her last MRI scan affected 4/5 of her vertebrae – though I suspect that it is likely to be affecting more than that now, something I guess we’ll find out soon, as she has another back specialist to see in just over a week. I think this will be the 5th or 6th specialist she has seen now, and whilst I want to hope that this can offer the attention and treatment she needs, I’ve mostly come round to the fact that this is a permanent condition, that ultimately we are going to have to live with.

This week has been a particularly bad one for the poor girl, but with lots of commitments at work, I haven’t been able to pay her the attention she not only needs, but thoroughly deserves.

This is why I need a device that can warp time, as sadly my workload is dictating that I need to work this weekend, when I really need to be paying attention to the woman i love.

I guess… Who ever said life was going to be easy

Digital Economy Bill – My MP Mike Hancock’s Response

I recently emailed my MP Mike Hancock,of the Liberal Democrats as like many Internet aware users, I have been very concerned about the rushing through of the Digital Economy Bill.

The bill is wide ranging, although I’m not going to go into great detail here as there is a good start to information about this on the BBC.

I raised some specific concerns as well as using the Digital Economy Bill letter template from 37 Signals – particularly in relation to the methods that would be used to determine who file sharers are – for instance, as I write this blog, there are a number of unsecured networks that I could use to go online with, and download copyrighted material. Then there are issues with business and schools being responsible for any downloaded copyrighted material.

I was also concerned that websites accused of breaching copyright, could with no due process be blocked from being accessed. In short a hell of a lot of power, with very little accountability to prove infringements.

My MP’s response was as follows:

Dear Mr Handley,

The Digital Economy Bill is wide ranging and covers issues such as a new remit for Channel 4, the classification of computer games, plans for switchover to digital radio and the future of regional news on ITV as well as the issue of illegal downloading.

The Liberal Democrats support the creative industries and believe that many aspects of this Bill are vitally important to the continuing success of our radio, television and content industries.

We are also concerned about the financial implications of illegal downloading of copyright material and recognise the importance of protecting intellectual property.

A report published on 17th March 2010 predicted that a quarter of a million jobs in the UK’s creative industries could be lost by 2015 if current trends in online piracy continue.

Commenting on it, Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “The results of the study stress that the growth of unauthorised file-sharing, downloading and streaming of copyrighted works and recorded performances is a major threat to the creative industries in terms of loss of employment and revenues. The scale of the problem is truly frightening now – let alone in the future if no firm actions against illegal file-sharing are taken.”

For these reasons we do believe that some action is needed and must form part of the Digital Economy Bill.

However, we have opposed – and helped defeat – government proposals (contained in Clause 17 of the original Digital Economy Bill) to give itself almost unfettered powers to act against copyright infringement.

Further, as a result of debates instigated and amendments passed by the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, the government’s original proposals relating to illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing have been significantly improved.

As a result, no action to introduce “technical measures” (whether temporary account suspension, bandwidth throttling or whatever) can be introduced until;

1. soft measures (letter writing) have been used
2. an evaluation of their effectiveness has been undertaken
3. an evaluation of the need for, and likely effectiveness of, technical measures has been undertaken
4. further consultation has taken place
5. proposed legislation is brought before parliament for decision, and
6. there is an explicit assumption of innocence until proved guilty

The Liberal Democrats remain concerned by some aspects of the system for tackling peer-to-peer file-sharing being introduced in the Bill and will take further action in the Commons to scrutinise and improve the legislation. In particular, we are concerned that there will not be enough time for in-depth consultation on the initial code that Ofcom will draw up. We also feel that there is currently inadequate protection in the Bill for schools, libraries, universities and other businesses offering internet access to the public.

We are also unconvinced of the merits of the various technical measures that have been proposed, including bandwidth shaping and temporary account suspension. For this reason we have amended the Bill to ensure that any such measures cannot be introduced without proper consultation and not until evidence has been produced to prove that this is the best available option. We are further seeking to ensure that any measures brought before parliament will be subject to maximum scrutiny in both Houses and that it will be possible for changes to be made to them before a final decision is made.

We are urging the creative music, film and video games industries to work more vigorously to develop new business models which will make it easier and more affordable for people to legally access their products. We hope that this combined with “soft measures” and an effective education campaign will mean that further action will not be required.

Liberal Democrats have agreed at their Spring Conference to establish a working party to address these issues. With at least a year before there will be any attempt to introduce “technical measures”, this will provide an opportunity for the party to consider the outcome of research into the effectiveness of the early stages of the implementation of the legislation in the digital economy Bill.

The Bill has now completed all stages in the Lords but cannot proceed unless it has, as a minimum, been debated at a “Second Reading” in the Commons. We believe that many of the measures in the Bill that do not relate to illegal file sharing are important and must be allowed to go into law. However, in respect of those that relate to illegal file sharing we will not support them in the Commons if we are not satisfied that the procedures in place are fair and allow for full consultation and scrutiny before their introduction in the future.

Best regards,

Mike Hancock MP

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.

Next up was Jeremy from White Hat Media (I am pretty sure that is right, but I had nipped to the loo during the introductions).

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!