What BrightonSEO Tells Me About Search-as-Discipline

What BrightonSEO Tells Me About Search-as-Discipline

27th July 2010

On Friday I went along to the second #BrightonSEO conference. It’s a free SEO conference organised by Kelvin Newman of Site Visibility and despite being a free conference, there was certainly a lot of information packed into a hot and stuffy afternoon. In fact; attendance was such that more than a handful of people had to sit on the floor. Although nobody seemed to mind!

There have already been a number of great round-up posts, and if you are looking for an overview of all the presentations then check out Peter Handley’s run through (as guest) on Holistic Search and also Robin Houghton, at Eggbox Marketing. In addition Paddy Moogan’s overview offers a considered review of many of the presentations, along with a summary take-away tip. I wanted to take a slightly different approach, and reflect on what the presentations (when considered together), tell us about the state of the search marketing industry using key points from the speakers.

It seemed to me that there were two consistent recurrent themes; which were that social media is already firmly on the search agenda and that our marketing activities must be underpinned by process and measurement. Definitely a coming of age event.

Annabel Hodges of OMD, (though at Zone Content at the time of her case studies) talked us through when an SEO campaign isn’t an SEO campaign – the premise being that we’re often required to diversify our campaigns beyond what might be considered “SEO”. We were shown a couple of case studies, my favourite example being a project for New Look. New Look had a specific focus for their core website, therefore the challenge was to create an inventive social media campaign off-site. Using YouTube only, her team created New Look TV; a social media campaign which invited people to send their own video auditions to be New Look TV presenters. The campaign worked extremely well, with videos appearing in universal search results alongside the more traditional ecommerce hard-hitters.

It strikes me that as multimedia content becomes more commonplace and popular  and as it becomes easier for potential customers to interact with (and often produce that) content, that we’re already there with overlap between search and social.

Also presenting on social media Cedric Wooding from Jollywise talked to us about Facebook advertising and targetting capabilities, with a particular focus on a case study with the Women’s Tennis Association. There were a number of interesting points; such as ad images seem to have a maximum shelf-life for CTR efficacy of around 48 hours, Sunday evening and Monday morning are peak Facebook activity times and that geolocation of your target audience has a tangible effect on price, (not just total audience.)

One particular point that Cedric made that I hadn’t previously considered is that when evaluating the success of a Facebook campaign (in the case of the WTA, they grew “likes” from 7000 to 250,000 in just six weeks), alongside the other metrics that may focus on the value of the “like” to the customer, Cedric talked about the value of the “like” to the customer’s business partners i.e. having a Facebook audience of 250,000 is obviously a valuable selling point when renegotiating sponsorship deals and suchlike. Coming back to my initial point about a “coming-of-age” feel to the agenda, I thought this was a fantastic example of understanding and positionning the value of social marketing activity to the brands business objectives.

Although different campaigns, with different objectives, it is interesting to note that both Annabel and Cedric’s examples focus on activity that is entirely off-site, something that three or four years ago – might have seemed anaethema to SEO-proper (whatever that is).

Moving onto the more measurement and process focused presentations, Mark Cook of Further, talked us through their approach to traffic prediction. There’s a common saying in search analytics “garbage in – garbage out” and it was clear that Mark had strong feelings on how and where to get the best input data, recommending Google Insights for Search as opposed to Google Adwords Traffic Estimator – but most importantly in developing their own proprietary methods of measuring and predicting traffic. You will have to take my assurances that the methodology made sense.

The take-away here for me, is a point about responsibility and accountability. It is no longer acceptable to shrug shoulders and blame Google if we don’t have the answers. In fact, if I think about Nikki Rae’s presentation on using Custom Segments in Google Analytics, we’re provided with another level of insight into how our “audience types” may flow through a site, courtesy of Google. An example Nikki used that I thought would be valuable would be segmenting “members” as opposed to non-member visitors, to discern any differences in how such a segment may interact with a site.

In another presentation with strong elements of accountability, Simon Dance of Cheapflights talked us through using CRM for linkbuilding. Although the focus was on building and maintaining relationships, Simon strongly advocated the documentation of such relationships and process using CRM systems. Not only is this essential for managing the efficiency of linkbuilding processes, but documenting  activity is an essential platform for improvement. Simon also recommended taking backlink snapshots to help with understanding shifts in rank and was keen to point out that sometimes losing links can result in an improved position. Either way, without a snapshot of your backlink profile in time, it is very difficult to account for shifts in position. Not that backlinks are the only contributary driver, but I think we can all agree, when we make an on-page change, we tend to be aware of it!

Again, the underlying theme with this presentation is that although we might not be able to say with complete certainty what might be driving shifts in search marketing metrics, but without some level of accountability and record we’re left with the “whims of Google” type answer common from the snake oil types that prefer to obfuscate search -which simply won’t suffice from a professional search marketer.

Finally; whilst it is clear that common themes around search-and-social-as-bedfellows, and the need for accountability were heard strongly throughout – I’ll give the last word to Rishi, who reminds us that whilst we might get excited about a hugely successful backlink campaign, our efforts need to be put into a meaningful language for customers. However search evolves, it will always come back to revenue.

Written By
Nichola Stott is owner and co-founder of theMediaFlow; online revenue optimisation and audience services (including SEO, SEM and SMM). Prior to founding theMediaFlow, Nichola spent four years at Yahoo! as head of UK commercial search partners.
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