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Searchlove London 2012 Final Recap

by Pete Wailes on November 5, 2012

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London eye by cuellar

So, another year and another searchlove. Firstly, a huge thanks to all the Distilled crew, but especially to Lynsey and Lauren, without whom searchlove wouldn’t be half the conference it is.

So, with that aside, what have we learned from 2 days of brain-crushing content?

On Mobile…

Mobile devices are here to stay. We’ve already passed a billion devices, and that’s set to more than double over the next five years. Put simply, if you don’t have a mobile strategy, you’re going to be out-maneuvered by your competitors who do.

To put it in to perspective, the lowest mobile device usage on sites nowadays looks to be around 8-10%. So if your site and business can’t cater to people on mobile devices, you’re automatically making life with you hard for 10%+ of your customers, and that figure is only going to grow.

Also, bear in mind that those people using your website in the evenings are almost certainly being interrupted by other media too, so you need to make sure that your experience is as clear, concise and compelling as possible, or they’re not going to retain the messages you’re trying to get over.

On Client/Agency Interaction…

As agencies, we tend to get frustrated when we’re unable to deliver the work that we know our clients need and will benefit from. Justin really brought home the difficulties that we face, and how, whilst it’s an issue, it’s often out of the hands of our points of contact with clients. There were a few key takeaways from this, to my mind:

  • No matter how hard it is for you to move the needle and drive change at your client’s business, remember that your contact is going to be having just as hard a time convincing those around them
  • When you find it hard getting in with a client, because you need to get on a list of recommended providers, then get through compliance, legal and HR and so on, just remember that it’s going to be as hard for them to get rid of you as it will be for you to get in there, so you should be fairly well entrenched when it finally happens
  • Your job isn’t to provide reporting (although that’s absolutely a part of what you’ll need to do); your job is to drive change and push the client forward. Reporting is easy to ignore, and hard to action. Hand holding, guidance and a brain to pick is what they really need
  • Understand your clients. Really get under their skin, learn about their industry, so that you can give better quality advice and talk to them in an educated manner. It makes comms far faster, endears you to your clients and makes for more rapid progress
  • Look at how you can get influence with the other marketing departments/agencies that your client has, so you can better co-ordinate your campaigns, and build better returns by being able to leverage the work, research and promotion that they’re doing

It’s also worth pushing to do work that’s amazing. That often means pushing the budget further, and a longer lead time on work that you produce, but the returns scale exponentially. Getting something twice as good will give more than twice the result. So in the long run, it’s actually cheaper and more efficient to just do amazing stuff and push it properly, rather than trying to do lower-grade things. They may seem safe, but they’re not going to return anything like the result.

On Working with Smaller Clients…

Anyone who knows Guy will tell you that the man is passionate about working with small businesses, and he’s a huge resource of information on the subject.

As a result, Guy’s talk was tour de force on working with small businesses. The main points that Guy made were that:

  • When you’re creating content, look for content that’s already been shown to have worked, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel. You need to try and make your results predictable
  • Look through analytics to find existing phrases that are easy to craft useful content around. Keywords asking questions are the best place to start with this
  • Rather than looking through competitor backlinks and trying to replicate them, look for the people who’ve linked and try and form relationships with them. If they were interested in competitor content, they may well be interested in yours too
  • Use microformatted data to get your search results marked up with rich snippets – reviews, rel author & publisher and so on all massively help click through rates. Bear in mind though that you can’t get stars and author listings at the same time, so pick and choose
  • Drill in to conversion rates by device type, screen resolution, location etc; find the ones that don’t convert and look in to how you can make them work better. This will almost certainly involve development time though, so ensure there’s budget available

Guy also made an excellent point about how to think creatively about content – if you want reviews, send out a camera and pay for the postage back. If you need to create a guide, see how you can curate content that already exists to do that, so that you’re not having to do all the legwork yourself. Think creatively about how you can cater to your client’s needs.

Will and Rand also covered this in their head to head at the end. If there’s no budget available for a client, look at ways you can create budget creatively or leverage non-monetary tradeable things to create the same opportunities.

As an aside, it was noted that if you can’t afford a marketing agency, then you’re probably either still at the stage of proving your business works, and scaling up to the point where you need one, or you’re not charging enough, as you don’t have the capital in your business to afford it. Marketing should have a positive ROI, so if it’s not, something’s wrong.

As an aside, if you’re small, you’re probably not spending money, you’re spending time. As a result, you don’t want to track ROI, as it’s not going to equate well. Instead, tracking scaling and efficiency will give a better idea as to your true potential, because the ROI will be delayed.

On Creating Content…

Mark Johnstone, Wil Reynolds and Richard Baxter were pushing the content angle for the next two sessions, namely how to go about creating content, and how to think of the creation process as part of what you do online.

The focus here was on shifting your thinking from being around linkbait or “content strategy”, which are distracting and vague respectively, to campaign strategy.

So what’s involved in a campaign strategy? Well, firstly a deep knowledge of the subject matter in question. This means if you’re not an expect in whatever the campaign is geared around, either you need to become one or find someone who is. And if you’re an agency, it’s almost certainly going to be the latter. An expert will add credibility, make sure the information is correct, and probably be able to put you in touch with other experts whom you’ll be able to leverage to push the content when it goes out.

When it comes to creating a creative piece, always start with a question. Content that’s about show and presentation is interesting once, but not actually useful. However, content that answers questions will be constantly useful, and thus more likely to generate links and traffic long term.

Then, once an idea is fleshed out, take it to some non-experts and test their level of interest and understanding. If they’re bored, or don’t get it, you either need to refine or adjust your idea. This needs to be done with real people though; if you try and do it through persona modelling, you’ll end up thinking it’s good, because your mind will fill in the gaps that other people would fall through.

There’s an aside to this too – content needs to have the right format to work well. Should it be an infographic? How about a video? What about a piece of long form blog content? A great idea can fail because of poor execution, or the great execution if it’s in the wrong format.

For video, there’s a couple of special considerations you should note – if you don’t compress your video, or try and serve it at full HD, you’re probably going to take down your hosting if a video gets popular. As a result, monitor your bandwidth usage and adjust your video quality/size as needed. On YouTube/Vimeo etc however, going HD is the best option. People are going to expect it to look good!

On that note, when embedding your content, make sure it’s in HTML5 so that it can be indexed properly, and make sure you include a transcript for users who can’t hear the audio, where it makes sense to do so.

It’s also worth remembering that it matters who sees your content – if you’re trying to get in front of a specific audience, do your homework first to discover where they are, and who influences them. That way, if you can get you content placed and seen and shared by those people, they you stop marketing to your target audience, and become referred to them, by the people that they know and trust.

Finally, always remember that your product in isolation is probably rather dull. The exciting part of any product is how it makes your users lives better. Even power boats & supercars aren’t cool out of their context.

On Doing Stuff Properly…

There’s been something of a trend in the search arena of trying to trick engines in to making them rank you higher than you should. That’s basically SEO right? Well, Wil doesn’t agree with that, and neither do we. Google, since April this year, has made 242 changes to their algorithm that they’ve told us about. Some big, some smaller. Moreover, they have thousands of PHDs working on it all the time. You’re not going to outsmart them, and even if you do, it’s not going to work long-term.

Instead, how about just doing marketing? Spending time engaging with consumers, and creating quality content to put on your site and out in to the community, that positions you as an expert and makes the who ecosystem better is a better proposition than trying to doing something to trick Google.

More than that though, it creates a defensible traffic source, because it builds you up as a brand. Also, it positions you well in the eyes of your consumer, and makes your Google traffic more secure too. Because long term, the only way to make sure you rank somewhere is to be so good that Google can’t not rank you there, because you not being there would make them look bad. Do you think they’d ever drop Match.com from the front page for online dating? Even if they did something dumb? No, because doing so will make them look bad.

So instead of trying to be insanely clever, try and be insanely great.

On Social & Search…

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last 18 months to do with social and search. The long and short of most of this is, no, there’s currently no evidence that social definitely increases rankings. However, it makes sense that long term, it will, and that the same content that gets social shares, gets links. So you should be worrying about it, because right now, worrying about it will get you what Google wants to see (links to great content), and long term will do the same (great content that people like and share/have shared).

In terms of what that content should be, ideally it should be something that both resonates with your audience, and meets business objectives too. And the best case scenario is content that will work long term, as well as giving an initial short term benefit.

On Local & International Search…

When it comes to local search, there’s a specific footprint that you need to get across to Google – your business name, phone number and email address. These things, put together around the web act as citations to make sure that Google knows who you are, and more importantly, where you are too.

In terms of the technical side of linking, it appears that brand based anchor text pushings local rankings better than commercial phrases, but more importantly, it looks like Google has a minimum weight threshold, so without one or more really goods links, you’re not going to get good local listings.

As an aside, you need to make sure that your listings are in the right places. You can do this by reporting a problem, but in the UK you’ll soon be able to correct these errors yourself by using Mapmaker.

It’s also worth keeping a log of places where you’re mentioned if you can, or at least monitor OSE/MajesticSEO to make sure that your business details are always correct across the web.

Finally for local, try to look at building reviews around the web. They’re useful in pushing your site, help build trust and credibility, and Google uses sentiment analysis to determine whether a review is good or not, so good reviews may well influence your rankings in the future.

As for international SEO, there’s a few basic rules. Firstly, if you can get the ccTLD, that’s going to help most. However, subfolders are also a good way of doing things, with the added benefit of inheriting all the weight of the site itself. Subdomains however are generally a poor way of approaching this, with little of the benefit of either other method.

It’s worth remembering when you’re setting up an international site that you’re going to need to make sure your content management system can handle content in various languages and locations, as many can turn into a messy pile of duplicated content.

Also, when using IP redirection to get users to the right content, remember that Google almost exclusively crawls from the US, so you’re going to need to make sure that there’s some form of link based architecture to your international content so that they can index that too.

And as a last thing on the international front, make sure you use hreflang to ensure that Google is given the best possible chance to put your content in to the right international index, and check the Webmaster Tools geotargetting settings are correct too.

…and that’s it for Searchlove 2012! What did you get from it? Leave a comment below!

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