It takes a lot to get me out of bed on a Saturday morning, and even more to make me miss a rugby match (yes, this is just me trying to shoehorn a reference to my award winning blog post, What rugby union taught me about SEO. Go on, read it. Then go join a rugby club.) But when the chance came to attend Think Visibility, I thought it would be well worth sacrificing a few hours of my precious beauty sleep for.
#thinkvis was my first conference, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Things I didn't expect were an arcade-style grabber machine, a pick-and-mix sweet shop or Santa but they all made an appearance. But the real purpose of me being there was to attend some of the great sessions they had on the day. The only hard part was deciding which of the two tracks to attend.
Lets get Visible
The first session of the day was Swerving the Guest Blogging Smackdown by James Agate. I chose this session for two reasons. Firstly, anything that references late 1990s/early 2000s wrestling is always a winner. And secondly for the millions of people who rely on Google this is a hot topic. At Search Laboratory we have shifted the focus away from guest posts for a while now, and are concentrating the majority of our link building efforts to other, more productive areas.
The key takeaways from this session were to not rely on guest blogging as your primary link building tool, avoid poor quality websites and dont be lazy. Here at Search Laboratory we always ask ourselves, "Why would anyone read this site?" before starting any form of guest blogging relationship with them.
The second session I attended was Takeaway tips: Learn from Success and Failures of a 7 Figure Site by Al Carlton. Al runs a number of websites, the most well-known being Coolest Gadgets. Al had some great tips, especially on the importance of building email lists, and using social media to help push quality content. I think my favourite quote was: "Embrace chaos and don't be afraid to change. Even if it means changing everything."
The Afternoon Sessions
Following the lunch break the first talk I sat in on was Get Those Skills to Pay Those Link Authority Bills by Andy Barr, from 10 Yetis PR, and Andy really does know his press release from his elbow. There were a lot of great talks on the day, but this was by far the most beneficial, and I was surprised by the sparseness of the crowd (Sorry Andy!). To my mind PR is the future of SEO, and is the direction Search Laboratory has been moving towards and were proud of the fact weve secured links from the likes of the BBC, The Sun and The Guardian for our clients.
Andy presented the findings from his white paper Likes, Loves and Loathes of Journalists in the UK, France, Germany and the USA. You can download the full white paper and see Andys slides here and if you work in SEO or PR then I highly recommend you do so.
Andy and his team interviewed 2,600 journalists across these countries and some of the results are eye opening to say the least. One thing that came out of the results was that 45% of comments mentioned PR and SEOs ringing up journalists and asking for links to online stories, and one thing that stood out was SEOs offering to buy links from newspapers on the first date. This is something as an industry we need to look at, it only takes a few rogue SEOs to tarnish the name of an entire industry, and lets be honest were already not winning any popularity contests.
Following Andys great presentation was always going to be tough ask, and that task in my case fell to Pak Hou Cheung who I think picked up the mantle well. Pak Hous presentation was on Content Outreach & Engagement: Staying Ahead of the Game. This session really enforced the mantra that Content is King and the importance of client education.
The Home Stretch
The final two sessions were worth waiting for. First up was Social Media Strategy – Looking beyond the Bull by Kristal Ireland. Kristal clearly knows her social media onions and its amazing that someone who looks so youthful has so many years of experience in the industry (you can pay me later Kristal). Her presentation was packed full of great examples of social media not done well, but social media done very well.
As a marketing graduate, the thought of The Five Ps still brings me out in cold sweats and nightmares of spending time in the university library, but Kristal managed to go back to marketing basics and get her points across much better than any of my lecturers ever did. These marketing principles need to be applied to social media and to paraphrase Kristal: "It's amazing the number of social media gurus who know nothing about marketing. To do social well you need to know what your customers want and how they want it". I think the most important message I took from this fantastic session was: Keep it simple, but significant.
The final session of the day was probably the most entertaining and there should definitely be more husband and wife presenters at conferences! Becky and Dave Naylor recounted their remarkable journey with their agency Bronco, including some delightful childhood photos. Dave is well known in the SEO world, but this was Beckys first speaking engagement - if she had any nerves she hid them extremely well. They discussed everything from their wedding to their staff and their office redevelopment.
So now I have popped my conference cherry, what are my thoughts? Well, anyone who thinks conferences are a bit of a jolly or a waste of time are mistaken. There were great tips shared throughout the day, not just by the excellent line-up of speakers, but also in the Q&As after each session, or even just mingling around the sweet shop.
Dominic and his team put on a great conference, and everyone there made me feel really welcome and I would certainly look to go back again.