My First Unconference – Cardiff MeasureCamp II, July 2017

Cardiff MeasureCamp photo

On Saturday 29th July I had the pleasure of attending my first ever ‘unconference’ event: Cardiff MeasureCamp. Their second Cardiff event saw web analysts, SEOs and other digital marketers come together at the Welsh capital’s rugby stadium, some of whom had travelled not only from Bristol/London direction, but even from other European countries.

In this post I’ll not only give my experiences of the day and what I learnt, but also explain what an unconference is and how it works…

What is an unconference?

An unconference is an ‘open conference,’ meaning that there is no set agenda or set speakers ahead of the day. All sessions are blank and up-for-grabs, and people apply to do sessions at the beginning of the day. Sessions can be a lecture-style, PowerPoint-driven talk (i.e. a traditional conference talk), or a group discussion, or a panel, or a roundtable, or a Q&A… It can be anything anyone wants, really. It’s very improvisational – while some people may come along with a talk in mind, others may think of a talk there-and-then on the day itself. The latter sort of happened to me (but more about that later)…

To be honest, when I first heard about unconferences a couple of years back, I thought they were a weird (and even terrible) idea. But when you actually go to one in the flesh, you soon realise that while they’re a very different and unusual setup, they’re still really useful and you can learn a lot.

What is MeasureCamp?

MeasureCamp is a group of unconferences all around the world, which focus on web analytics as its main subject. The ones in London (where it started) are crazy popular, with tickets getting snapped up extremely quickly. Other MeasureCamps have been held – or are going to be held – in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Sydney, San Francisco, Berlin and elsewhere across the globe.

Who’s it for?

While focusing on web analytics, they’re not only intended for web analysts and GA (Google Analytics) enthusiasts. I’m an SEO by trade, but I’ve always considered web analytics an area I can improve on… Sure, I know my way around a GA account, can do reports for clients, know what a bounce rate is, etc. But am I missing a trick on how I can extract data in a way that’d be even more beneficial to my clients? I was about to find out.

It’s not just for agency/freelance folk, either. One of the big insurance comparison sites sent their whole web analytics team along for the day. So those working client-side/in-house can learn a bunch, too.

The day’s sessions

After the opening introductory talk, there was a mad rush to ‘the board’:

With 5 rooms available (making it a multi-track event) and 8 sessions throughout the day, there were a total of 40 available spaces to fill.

About 15 minutes after the rush to the board, the first sessions started…

Session #1: Russell McAthy – Analytics Discussion

Russell McAthy (@therustybear) grabbed one of the first slots, where he ‘rambled’ (his choice of word) about Analytics unless anyone asked questions. If no one asked questions, he’d offer useful tips and advice off the top of his head.

Key points:

  • Get to grips with Google Data Studio, where you can add and customise reporting dashboards from Google Analytics and other Google products (Google AdWords, Google My Business, etc.).
  • Russell recommends looking at broader time-scales when making data comparisons. Week on Week is too temperamental, and acting on it and making judgement calls from one week to another can be rash. Year on Year however can give a much clearer indication of a website’s overall and long term performance.
  • The role of the analyst should be looking forward, not backwards. Analysts shouldn’t (just) have to look at past data to pinpoint problems. They should be looking forward, looking at trend data and making suggestions to businesses of what they need to do in the short term to benefit in the long term. That’s the dream.

Session #2: Nick Brown – SEO & CRO

Nick Brown is working on a new web development project for a client and wanted our thoughts on what he should include. He already had a good idea of what he wanted to do with the project, but wanted to use the MeasureCamp session as an excuse to pick the brains of the people around him, just in case there was anything else he could add. He wanted to make sure that in addition to SEO (search engine optimisation) he was also taking into account CRO (conversion rate optimisation) when designing the site.

Key points:

  • When starting a web project, there’s lots you need to consider: its purpose, what technologies it needs, its primary goals and actions… Don’t just jump straight into the design side without considering all these points carefully.
  • As the client is a software tool, there was a quick discussion about whether or not you should show your prices on the site. If they’re shown, the customer becomes well-informed, but may not even enquire. However, if they’re not shown, they may enquire but not necessarily convert anyway – or they could go ahead with someone who has shown their prices.

Session #3: Anna Lewis – Customising Analytics

In this group discussion, Anna Lewis (@annatlewis) asked the audience for as many suggestions of ways you can customise analytics. What other data (web analytics data or otherwise) can you make use of?

Key points:

  • Tying in weather data with your web data can be useful if you’re a seasonal business or even an outdoor business.
  • According to Russell McAthy, you can tie your web data to people’s smartwatches and – through that – their heart rate. Absolutely blew my mind.
  • See the full list of suggestions here.

Session #4: Tara Ann Brown – Intro to A/B Testing

I chatted to Tara (@TaraAnnB) at the beginning of the day and she told me that may do a talk, but hadn’t come especially to do one – the power of unconferences, ladies and gents. She decided to do an off-the-cuff talk about her and her team’s approach to A/B testing.

Key points:

  • Admin is important in testing. Take the time to write a test plan ahead of each – if you don’t, there’s the risk that tests will be run with no clear foresight or aim in mind, and the risk that you might run multiple tests at once by accident, which may conflict with each other.
  • A/B testing is great for tackling HiPPOs (the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). To use Tara’s example, if someone high up says “hey, let’s make the CTA button pink,” you can do a quick test, and if it’s obvious it’s not a good move, at least you can go back to them with data without impacting the site too much.

Session #5: Phil Pearce – SEO Acceleration

MeasureCamp veteran Phil Pearce (@philpearce) did multiple talks on the day, including two in a row during the afternoon. As there was some confusion over session timings, Phil whizzed through two talks in one session, only going over the key points in each. I could only find a slide deck online for one of them (the other one is a newer talk I think):

Key points:

  • JSON-LD is the new n’ improved version of Schema.
  • You can enable JSON-LD via WordPress plugins or – if it’s a site that’s not using a WordPress CMS – then via Google Tag Manager.
  • Technical SEO is important. He talked about a client who saw a 25%-ish increase in SEO traffic because they took the time to focus on site speed, Google Search Console setup & optimisation, and other similar quick win solutions.

Session #6: Anna Lewis – Social Analytics

In this session, Anna asked the group what social analytics tools they used, what metrics were important to them, and so on. I only do a small bit of social media marketing work myself – but even so, it was really useful.

Key points:

  • Facebook is incredibly useful for drilling down and getting very specific demographical data. Even if you don’t end up using Facebook Ads, its insights can help you to find out a ton of stuff about a business’ audience, who they are, what they like to do, and so on.
  • Use URL shorteners – such as bitly – to get additional insight on clicks. A lot of companies are starting to buy shortened brand domains to use instead, which can be hooked up to bitly, so you can still use their platform but with your own personalised/branded URL shortener. The .link domain is now also available, which makes sense as a shortened URL (e.g. [brand].link vs their full URL).
  • See the full list of ideas, tool suggestions, etc. here.

Session #7: Steve Morgan – Creating & Running Meetups

Recognise the name…? 😉

(You’ll have to forgive the atrocious handwriting though.)

I didn’t plan to do a talk, only wanting to take a backseat and observe the day’s activities. However a few people said they wanted to pick my brains about running meetups (as I run Cardiff SEO Meet), so someone suggested I could do a roundtable discussion about it. It was only a small group (about 5 of us), but in addition to me being able to share my experiences, I also learnt a lot from the other attendees’ suggestions, too.

Key points:

  • We talked about whether or not to charge an entry fee. The risk with making your event free is that you get a high attendee drop-off rate – sometimes as high as 40-50%. However one attendee said that he charges £5 to make sure that serious, quality attendees show up – and his drop-off rate is much lower because if someone commits to buying a ticket, they’re less likely to just not show up.
  • We also talked about how to get sponsors. One person said that recruiters make good sponsors of meetups and UGs (user groups) because the room might be full of potential job candidates for them, so it’s a no-brainer.

Session #8: Russell McAthy – Ask Me Anything

Coming full-circle, Russell did a similar talk to his very first session of the day, however in a more ‘ask me anything’ style. It was a lot more informal in nature, which worked well as the final session, with everyone winding down and preparing for the event’s after party.

Final thoughts of my experience

I found Cardiff MeasureCamp to be incredibly useful. As an SEO (and especially as a solo freelancer who’s not part of a bigger agency or team), it’s important to stay on top of web analytics tools, features and trends, so I can do a better job for my clients. I learnt a whole bunch of new things that’ll be useful to me and my clients going forward. And I even ended up hosting a session myself – not something I thought would happen at the start of the day. Who knows what can happen at an unconference eh? 🙂

Have you ever been to unconference? Have you ever been to a MeasureCamp event? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Steve Morgan

CIM-qualified Online Marketing & SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) Consultant with over 8 years of online marketing experience: 4 years' agency experience; around 6 months' experience working in-house for a national household name in the insurance industry; now freelancing full-time.