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Day 1 of #SAScon – lessons learnt



Image source: Barry Adams

This week sees the return of SASCon, a conference based in Manchester which is into its 5th year. With a broad mix of speakers and topics it has a great reputation and everyone I’ve spoken to has highly recommended attending. Happily, State of Digital was offered some press passes so we had the chance to battle through the rain and make it to sunny Manchester.

So, without further ado, here are the top lessons from day 1:

Keynote – Brett Tabke (PUBCON)

  • At conferences you’re there for the 10% of new stuff
  • New trends matter more than ever – tech burn rate is high, phones last 2 years. Things are speeding up.
  • “All mobile all the time”. Last year – 91% of us adults have mobiles in arms reach. This year 93%.
  • Smartphone users have 150 ‘look down’ moments each day
  • 50000 us female teens send 500 sms messages each day
  • End of 2014 there’ll be more mobile connected devices than there are people
  • People 3x more likely to use an app than a website
  • Average age of first cellphone is 13 (14 in UK)
  • 26% of web traffic in asia is mobile
  • 61.5% of internet traffic is bots
  • 47% of emails opened on smartphone, 18.5% on tablet
  • Internet of everything – even cows. Dutch startup (Sparked) monitors cows to see when they’re sick, pregnant, etc. Each one sends 200mb of data per year.
  • The problem with internet of everything is that it doesn’t talk to each other. Different protocols create chaos.
  • New tech is also not guaranteed to be around in a years time – experimental hardware could be discontinued (e.g. door bell that sends a photo to your phone)
  • Trends of 2014 = digital currencies, wearables, big data, 3d printing, drones, e-learning, neuro marketing.
  • Google – trying to solve death. Apple deciding where to put the headphone jack!
  • Speed is everything – decreasing page speed by 100ms = 1% loss of sales. (Amazon)
  • Responsive, based on screen size is really important – no more device sniffing.

What’s next?

  • Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2b
  • Merging virtual reality with social media. Oculus, Sony, Samsung all working on hardware
  • Omni treadmill that lets you physically walk through a scene
  • Battle going on for Graphene (single layer of carbon)
  • VR will start off in gaming, and then move to the ‘real world’. Think of the likes of Second Life… but that was anonymous.
  • Combining Social with VR – walk around your town seeing real people.
  • Augmented reality – Google Glass – could be popular, although Glass already has a stigma attached to it.
  • Opportunities in e-commerce, events, virtual tourism, education, etc.
  • This is coming sooner than you think – there could easily be 10 million users sold by the end of 2015.
  • Facebook VR in Q4 2015?

What about SEO?

  • Content, content, content
  • Authorship / Ownership is going to be really important
  • Knowledge Graph – Wikipedia featuring massive
  • Don’t ignore offline marketing – direct mail really works
  • If you want to download the deck it’s available here – http://www.pubcon.com/sascon.pdf

SEO Penalty Shootout

Moderator – Nichola Stott Tim Grice – Branded3 Paul Madden – LinkRisk Peter Handley – Director of Client Strategy @ The Media Flow

Do you really need to remove links to get rid of a manual penalty?
Paul: Yes. Do a removal, then disavow.
Tim: Disavow at domain level, send a reconsideration request. Of 70 – 80 manual penalties they’ve only managed to remove a small percentage so you may as well just disavow. Lots of links die naturally as sites don’t pay their bill / go offline.
Paul: If you see a link not active (404 / 500 / etc.) disavow it anyway just in case the site comes back.

What if they ask for payment?
Paul gave an example of someone who used to charge $0.50 for a link but $5 for removal. He does bulk deals, especially if you go and see him, but he’s 11.5 hours from Delhi!

How many sites have a link penalty but don’t know it?
Tim: Manual penalties always show up in WMT. Penguin won’t warn you so proactively disavow your links.
Paul: You’d be surprised what a difference disavowing links can make to rankings and traffic.
Peter: Definitely do it proactively and make sure you know the link profiles of your clients when you take them on.

If you’ve changed title tags how long does it take Google to readjust?
Peter: Based on crawl rate of site so depends

Paid for followed link from Guardian – would you disavow?
Tim: If it’s an advertorial, yes. Disavow at domain level if you have lots of links from a site.
Everyone else: Don’t disavow domain:guardian.com – do it at a link level
Tim: If it’s a manual penalty that you can’t get out of, disavow at domain level

What are the most common characteristics of a shitty link?
Paul: sitewides, obvious paid, obvious guest, old school article marketing, forum profile spam.
Tim: Anything with commercial anchor text. If it only has SEO value it’ll hold you up in a manual reconsideration request.
Peter: Completely agree – it’s always the money terms that get you in trouble.

If you were contributing to quality industry sites with guest posts is that something that you shouldn’t be doing?
Paul: If it’s done for SEO value it’s got to go. Peter: If you’re tapping into an audience and naturally linking / adding value to the readership then you should be fine.
Tim: If you’re under a penalty, just nofollow it. Paul: Look at the site as a whole and see how they’re monetising it. If they’re selling links then you could get caught in the crossfire.

How prevalent is negative SEO and how effective is it?
Peter: Seen it twice (both ‘porn bombs’) – usually people who think they’re being negative SEO’d are actually victims of stuff they did in the past. Paul: Completely agree. They had a villa rental place in the states with links from adult sites that, after investigation, found that the links were from “ladies of the night” who were using the villas for their services.
Tim: It definitely exists but doesn’t work very often.

What’s the recipe for SEO success?
Peter: Create great content
Paul: Do you think that creating content and waiting for the links really works?
Peter: Creating content and then nudging sites for a link is probably the way to go.
Paul: Don’t forget that you need to monitor links even if you’re doing things properly. PRWeb for instance has an eco-system below it of scrapers taking their content and putting adsense around it.
Tim: Do stuff that means you deserve to rank. Bring everything together to make you the best possible result for that search term.

How important is click through?
Dwell time make a big difference – if users are clicking through and returning to the results quickly it’ll mean a drop in rankings.

What about infographics?
Peter: If we’re creating an infographic it’s not just about the graphic – it’s about creating quality content that you can use as outreach.
Paul: Infographics will get hit this year.
Tim: It’s definitely about the content. If you’re just doing it for links you’re doing it wrong.

If a site is under a penalty what are the recovery times:
All: Sites are very often hit by both a manual and Penguin penalty
Tim: Penguin takes at least 6 months because of a refresh.
Paul: If you’re under a manual penalty big sites tend to come back faster than small sites – some never come back.
Nichola: Keep in mind that WMT won’t show you historical issues.

What’s the best link building strategy?
Tim: You have to be worth the link – be worth talking about. Things have massively changed so there’s no longer one specific tactic that works every time. Think of things more in terms of PR than link building.
Paul: Algorithmically difficult stuff to detect. Mix up content placement. Paid links, paid image links, etc.
Peter: Pitch an idea to publishers then build it.
Paul: We product content but it’s there to have a link in it because links are still, and always have been, the signal.

Do manual penalties have an expiry time? Paul: Never seen a manual action drop off because of time elapsed All: Back in the day before notifications manual actions used to disappear – not now

How scared do you have to be about building links?
All: Big PR campaign from Google and Bing but it’s not all the truth
Paul: Be careful – don’t mention paid links or placement / anchors in the outreach email
Paul: Don’t reveal the name of the client until the placement is agreed

SEMRush Workshop

Rishi Lakhani

  • Lots of SEO tools – it’s important to learn how to use them to their maximum capacity
  • 2 week free trial (valid until tomorrow): SASCON-JC4H29R1
  • Looking at what your competition are bidding on shows what’s making them money
  • bit.ly/SEOsneaks by @aleyda shows how to identify your organic competitors
  • Check for competitor ranked keywords, filtering out brand terms, to see what they’re ranking for.
  • “Metrics are vanity, Rankings are sanity”
  • Download full domain organic traffic, check how often a URL is appearing (new frequency column), order by high to low – that’s the best page.
  • Look for changes in traffic using SEMRush, and then use archive.org to compare the page / Majestic to look at link building
  • Export landing pages, look where they spent the most money, identify the strategy.

The Human Interface

Jeff Coghlan

  • First interaction with technology was the Atari – playing Pong using a games paddle
  • That then moved into controlling games with a joystick
  • Military tech goes to games, games tech goes mainstream
  • We then have the remote control – been around for years but is still used (wireless not wired as it was in the past)
  • First computers – BBC Micro – just had a keyboard…
  • And then came the Apple Mouse.
  • We’re now seeing the death of the mouse.
  • Games console control pads were then released and, although design has changed, they stayed the same until the Wii.
  • This changed the world as people who couldn’t play games were suddenly able to – bowling, dancing, etc. played by families and controlled with motion.
  • The Kinect came next, which was designed for gaming but takes us to other areas (monitoring heart rates, etc.)
  • Augmented reality has been around for a while – you used to be able to use webcams – but then the iPhone came along and changed everything.
  • Now used in health, education, science, e-commerce. Placing tables and chairs in your room to see how they look.
  • Tech such as AirPlay is now normal – streaming music and video from devices to TV. Massive risk for Sky, who reacted by bringing out SkyPlayer. The days of the old school media mogul is over.
  • It’s all about UX – that’s why Apple and Google have taken over Microsoft.
  • The ‘cloud’ is taking over everything. At some point phones and tablets are likely to end up as dumb terminals.
  • We’re trying to make technology so that we can interact with it on a human level – ASIMO is the perfect example of this.
  • Virtual Reality. First came out and it was crap. Oculus Rift is great, but there’s an issue with it becoming mainstream – it has a wire that plugs it into a computer and is expensive: £300 to get a headache!
  • Google Glass: Clever but you look stupid. A bit like Bluetooth headsets.
  • Working with sunglasses manufacturer to make it so you can’t tell – what about privacy?
  • RFID is used everywhere – Oyster cards, security cards, etc. but it also has more fun uses. Being used in Theme parks to create real world games… also, wrist bands that show which ride you’ve been on and how long you queued. Too long = free drinks?
  • NFC moving to the forefront, although Apple don’t support it (they have iBeacon).
  • SmartTV: Motion and voice control but we still use the remote.
  • The interfaces aren’t good enough at the moment – overlap on voice control and motion sensors make you look like you’re having a fit.
  • Again, TVs will end up as dumb clients.
  • Wearable tech is coming next and we’ll immerse ourselves in it. Telling you when you need to go to the doctor, etc.
  • Lots of this is already here – TopShop lets you virtually try clothes on.
  • ‘The Unbelievable Bus Shelter’
  • Google bought Nest – they want to control every part of your life
  • Philips hue – kinda cool but very expensive for what it is
  • Displays will end up being everywhere, which means that AR will become normal. Glass at the zoo will have a display built in to show you more info.
  • Display inside a table top – see the recipe or tv below you as you cook
  • All of this is amazing, but privacy is already dead and it’s getting worse
  • General users need to learn more about encryption so we can take back our privacy – “Reset the net”

Content marketing for success

Kristal Ireland, Nichola Stott, Anna Wilson, Sadie Sherran



Image source: Laura Gordon

How do you definite content marketing?
Anna: Spend a lot of time defining audiences. Who are they and what do they want? Creating content with meaning.
Sadie: Content has to have meaning for the user, but also have to have meaning for the brand. Generate awareness; inform about the product – it all needs to lead back into sales or revenue generation.
Nichola: It’s not something you can define other than that it’s a marketing tactic.

Is content marketing best administered by SEO, PR, or a mixture of all?
Sadie: It should be a mix – needs to span everything so without buy in it’ll fail. Nichola: Ownership should be with the business.
Anna: Should be completely integrated – example of the ‘motherhood’ video which is based on research and insight so has meaning for the customer and brand. They’ve also used the PR element for placement in influential titles, Social to create a viral effect, and SEO for rankings. Massive impact on the target audience meaning that Fiat sold more cars.
Sadie: Content isn’t just about links any more – it needs to be for a higher purpose.

Any great examples of content marketing from the last 12 months?
Nichola: Brew Dog (high alcohol beer), AirBnB (city guides), Uber – being disruptive so doing great content because they’re shaking things up.
Nichola: Also reactors like Paddy Power who do a great job of reacting to news and situations.
Sadie: (Missed the name of the brand) – campaign about depression.
Anna: The Guardian did a campaign at The Cannes Film Festival ‘3 Little Pigs’ campaign. Also Stephen Sutton – not a brand and he told his story in a genuine and honest way which people reacted to.

Will consumers see through a brand who try to tell a story that doesn’t stack up? e.g. If BP did a ‘save the arctic’ campaign?
Anna: Yeah, completely. Think of McDonalds doing stories about where their food came from which was hijacked by people telling stories of finding chicken heads!

What about reactive content? What is important when working as an agency to help guide brands through reactive content?
Nichola: Knowing where the baton change happens and know the limits. Educating the brand so that they know there’s an element of risk – “Why I shop in Waitrose” is an example of this.
Kristal: ‘Susanalbumparty’ is another!
Nichola: Being ready is key too. The PETA ‘all babies should be vegans’ campaign is a great example – organisations should have real science ready to jump on that kind of rubbish.
Anna: Research why things are trending is really important too. Just because something’s in the news doesn’t mean that you should release content – example of the Celeb Boutique tweeting because they thought ‘Aurora’ was trending because Kim Kardashian wore a dress they stock. It was really a shooting.

Any tips for coming up with ideas?
Nichola: Do a site: search with product queries and look at what people are asking on forums. Mumsnet is great for this!
Anna: No matter how random the product is there’s always a target market. What are the industry jokes? Think about bricks: speak to builders – they have the ‘plaster challenge’ where an apprentice has to hold a bag of plaster over their head and the bag gets cut open. Take that joke, put it into some marketing, and release it. When it has ‘in’ jokes they share it, and then it reaches a wider audience.
Anna: Seriously – if you have a boring product just go to the pub and come up with ideas while drinking.

More to come on day 2!

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Matt is the co-founder of Aira - a UK based agency offering SEO and Social Media campaigns to businesses of all shapes and sizes. He started his digital marketing life with Hidden Pixel making Facebook games, is also a dog lover, self confessed geek, and loves motorsport.