Takeaways from BrightonSEO September 2016

This was my fifth or sixth BrightonSEO so obviously I am quite a fan, and it’s not just that I like collecting the tee shirts (though they are rather good too).

I am not going to give a lot of technical SEO stuff I learnt but hopefully provide a review for anyone thinking of going to the next one and answer the question – is it worth attending.

New venue

This BrightonSEO was different, it was the first in the new venue of the Brighton Centre. Being bigger it was much better, I could go to whichever talk I wanted to. At the previous venue at the Pavilion, nice though it is, I often found after queuing there still wasn’t room so I missed talks I really wanted to go to.

Also, the Brighton Centre is much more designed for this sort of event and there was no problem with noise from the exhibition being heard in the talks.

The audience

I have been involved with SEO since 2000 and find it fascinating to watch how it has changed, and is still changing. We all know about how the technology has changed but as industry it has changed out of all recognition. When I first started going to ‘above the pub’ events, almost everyone was young, male, nerdy and certainly not employed by an agency. In fact I can remember talking to agencies at exhibitions who couldn’t see any way of offering SEO commercially, they were only doing PPC then.

Then the audience got really young, the agencies moved in, and there were a lot of women. This time, the agencies certainly dominated, but perhaps the age demographic had increased slightly suggesting perhaps the industry has grown up a bit.

The talks

All the talks I went to were good, having been in the industry so long my main interest is in where SEO is going conceptually and any really interesting new developments. But although SEO is changing fast the fundamentals stay remarkably similar. It is still just marketing albeit on a very technical platform.

Most of the developments are in how website and the internet has developed technically and how this can be used for the benefit of online visibility not how that visibility works fundamentally. That said, I picked up lots of ideas and tips that were very specifically SEO.

The money in the SEO industry is very much with the large corporate sites and the ecommerce sector. Numbers alone are going to dictate that B2C predominates, which it did. I am a freelancer working for B2B SMBs, mainly in very niche markets, so although the same principles apply, the examples generally didn’t.

My only slight gripe was that occasionally one of the (younger) speakers came out with a revelation that showed his years rather than his experience. The example that springs to mind was that the old way of doing SEO with black hat trickery has had its day and now the only way is white hat. I thought the only way was only ever white hat if you wanted long term results but it sounded as though white hat was a new thing which no one had really thought of trying before. But I am being picky.

Should I go to the next BrightonSEO?

Yes if you want to keep abreast of the spirit of SEO. The workshops on the previous day are probably the better way to learn SEO and its associated skills but this is an excellent event for keeping a feel for where SEO is going, what’s important and what is going to become more important. And the new venue makes it much easier to enjoy.

See you there!


Targeting local areas

It’s always a challenge. A small company wants to be found for search terms that include geographical areas in which they do not have a physical presence. For example, a fire alarm company whose offices are in Dorset want to come up for ‘fire alarms hampshire’, and it’s difficult.

The local search results based on Google maps will only list organisations based on physical address, so what do you do. The answer depends on how much you want to invest, both in time and money, and it will certainly take plenty of time.

Rand Fishkin did what I think is a very good White Board Friday on the topic a week or so ago.

Targeting the local market, beyond the doorstep, has always been difficult. I perhaps naively think it’s a particular problem here in the UK because we are so small. I imagine in the States the problem of being just over the border in Dorset but your target market being half a mile down the road in Hampshire just doesn’t happen, but perhaps as I say I just don’t know the US very well.


Periodic Table of SEO Success

This inforgraphic sums up a lot of SEO very neatly.  It’s attractive too.  It was created about a year ago now I think, but the points it makes are still valid.


And of course it shows exactly how infographics are meant to work, as requested I am linking back to the source – Search Engine Land’s Periodic TAble of SEO success factors.


SEO individual freelancers and agency provision

SEO is constantly changing.  Not exactly ground breaking news but true all the same.  This is true both of the tactics of SEO and its strategy.

I have worked as an SEO since 2000 and seen the industry change out of all recognition.  This hit home when I attended BrightonSEO last April – I highly recommend it by the way.  Comparing the people there with the attendees of similar conferences a few years back was striking.  When I first attended conferences it was all people like me – individual freelancers, working on their own usually from a home based office.  I recall an exhibition associated with a conference in London about seven years ago where there were lots of agency stands offering PPC but none offering natural search services.  When I asked why, the answer was a combination of lack of demand but mainly that they couldn’t see a way of making it pay.   But then there used to be questions about Google would ever make any money.

Fast forward five years or so and almost everyone at Brighton was from an agency and there were not many sole trader SEOs.  In fact, the agency staff seemed a bit in awe of anyone going it  alone – not sure that was the self employment bit or the SEO!

But it has got me thinking.  We all know that SEO has expanded its reach and there is so much more now to it than in the good old days of keyword density and web position gold.  One of the big challenges that an SEO working on their own now faces is having time to really keep on top of the strategy that is best for a client’s search visibility.  With a multi person set up it is so much easier to allocate keeping up with the overall pattern of SEO and how best to utilise time and resources to one person and the actual implementation of that strategy to another.  Quite often this means of course allocating the implementation of social search to one person and social media for search to another etc, etc..

Self employment is all about wearing many hats – being the salesman, the bookkeeper, the marketer as well as the service provider – and this is just another hat.    But a very important one.

There is no right or wrong or best when comparing the self employer SEO with an agency.  One will be right for one client, the other better for another. Generally the self employed SEO will be able to provide a more affordable service for smaller clients, and provide a much more holistic approach on  a  budget.  Large organisation will simply need more SEO input than one person can provide.

But whichever an organisation employs, or even if they keep their SEO provision in house, planning is key to ensuring the best return on investment.  80% of time spent on planning and 20% on implementation often has more effect than 20% on planning and 80% on implementation.  It can sometimes be a hard sell but the results speak for themselves in the long run.


Website design, improving conversion rates and helping SEO

The visibility of a site is gradually becoming dependent on more and more factors – the number of SEO signals is increasing.  We used to be able to more or less ignore design but no longer.  Google is now believed to look at a site’s performance metrics and these are definitely influenced by the site’s design.

I have been  looking at a client site that is about to undergo a redesign and so I have been thinking about design much more than I normally do.   I usually focus almost exclusivley on the content and how it is presented from the point of text layout.  But the site in question doesn’t have great visibility and the conversion rate  is low.  The low conversion rate is not the only problem but it needs improving and I think it is not unrelated to the dark background and reversed out text.

In my search for more expert information on how design, and more specifically colour, affects conversion rates, I came across a video that I think is well worth watching.

By Flint McGaughlin of MECLABS  It is quite long at an hour, but provides some useful insights.

It was recorded a while back in 2012 but it seems valid.

The two points that I felt I need to remember were about headlines and about focussing on just one call to action.

Headlines – capture attention and convert into interest

Flint used the rather useful metaphor of a headline being like a chat up line.  Both need to capture attention and then turn it into interest.  The site I am assessing is an ecommerce product site and the headlines are simply the product name, like so many ecommerce sites.  Such a headline may capture the attention if is exactly – and I mean exactly – what you are looking for, but there is no margin for error.  Even if the product is what your wanting to buy but you use a slightly different name for it, the chances are that in the micro second you allow to for your decision, you will decide it is not right and move on.  What a waste, especially if I have put a lot of effort into the SEO of the page, or perhaps even worse, used Adwords and paid for you to visit the site.

Often there are constraints on an ecommerce and the headline has to be simply the product name.

Pink widgets

It just doesn’t invite any sort of engagement.

But put a sub head underneath and it becomes much more interesting

Pink widgets

The prettiest pink widgets apps for your Android

Call to action

We all know that every page needs a call to action, which at the very least should be a path where you are encouraging your visitor to go rather than leave your site.

Often there is more than one call to action, do this or do this.  The insight here was that every page needs a primary call to action to which 70% of the design should focus on achieving.

Don’t confuse your message.  As I say, obvious really but the obvious is often well worth revisiting.

I don’t often listen to the whole of a one hour video but this one was worth the couple of cups of coffee it lasted.  There is a lot more good stuff than the two points I have highlighted.


Where is SEO going

Clematis-image introducing SEO blot post

I have been working in SEO since 2000, almost the dawn of time.  We all know it is always changing and always has been – oh for the days of Webposition Gold when all we had to do was get a few keywords in the right places, work on the keyword density and up went the rankings!  A dim and distant memory – and just as well too one might say!

The really big algorithm updates all made sense – Florida was an early one, then caffeine and more recently the two really big ones, panda and penguin and of course hummingbird.  There have of course been lots more.

But where is SEO going now?  I recently attended BrightonSEO, a great event with lots of excellent sessions.  I am a freelancer working on my own so what really made an impression on me was talking to all the agency people there, all of whom were saying how much penalty related work they were picking up from other agencies that had left their clients with sites that had Google had penalised.  I didn’t meet any agencies who admitted to being responsible for the penalties but perhaps they don’t attend so many conferences.

The results of all these penalties is that sites and SEOs are becoming paranoid about doing anything that might incur Google’s wrath, and that means anything at all it seems.  On forums, on blogs, on SEO websites, everywhere there are warnings about doing this or that and what the results may be.  Guest blogging is a prime example.  Not so long ago, guest blogging was the in thing, now it is often described as little better than spam that will almost inevitably result in a penalty! 

The result is that the no follow tag is being used everywhere.

At the end of March, Econsultancy have started no following links to just about everywhere including the links from authors’ bios.  The no follow tag was brought in initially to prevent spam in blog comments, a sensible answer to a real problem.  Then it became useful to differentiate ‘natural’ links from paid links – perfectly legitimate paid links but not the vote that a link from a site was meant to be as understood by Google’s algorithm.

But if econsultancy (and others, I am using econsultancy just as an example) is saying we don’t want to associate ourselves from our authors’ sites, then why is econsultancy using those authors?  I think their answer would be that Google can’t differentiate good links from bios on respectable sites and spam ones which, if true, does not say much for the robustness of Google’s current algorithm. 

Personally I wouldn’t go to all the trouble of writing the kind of high quality article/post that a worthwhile site would want to publish if I weren’t going to get a follow link back.  Unless of course they paid me.

I may be naïve but I think that good honest white hat SEOs need to keep their nerve.  Good SEO has always been first and foremost about doing what is right for the visitor, and then taking a second look at what is right for the robots, and if the two clash (which is rare) the user should always wins.

I still believe in guest blogging!  If a good quality article is published on a good quality, high authority site, then it is good for the visitor to see a link back to the author’s site, and although it doesn’t make any difference to the user it is nofollow, I don’t see why the author shouldn’t get the credit.  Perhaps Google will start deciding that any site that publishes content that it wishes to disassociate itself from as identified by the sue of nofollow should itself penalised – why is it publishing content it thinks is iffy?

Post by : Sally Kavanagh


Content marketing infographic – periodic table of

by Sally Kavanagh

I just loved this from Econsultancy - the periodic table of content marketing

periodic table of contentInfographics have been a bit overdone but this is an example of how they can really work.  It’s colourful and attractive, memorable and it has some very useful content.  Best of all, it’s different.


SEO – the bits other than content marketing

by Sally Kavanagh

Everything now is about content marketing, writing new content, promoting new content, marketing new content.  There has been so much hype about the risks of incurring a penalty for doing what used to be quite legitimate, it’s almost as though that is all the SEO can do anymore.

Not true.  Most of the strategies that used to work still do, it’s just that so many have been abused and hence got a bad name.  Guest blogging is a good example.  Why did anyone think that flooding your market with low quality posts was going to be a good idea in the long term.  But I am very happy when I get a good post published on a good quality site on behalf of a client – or even for myself.  Even if it is ‘no followed’, it’s good content reaching a new audience that is promoting my client as an authority in their field.  And if it is a normal link, then so much the better.

This comment was triggered by a very good whiteboard Friday from Rand Fishkin, he’s given six ideas for to improve your rankings without content creation, worth a read and it earned him a link from me!


Google Authorship – getting it right

by Sally Kavanagh

Google+ is something to be taken seriously.  It’s a Google product and it makes sense that Google will do everything it can to promote its use – including using it as a signal when determining search engine rankings.

Author rank is linked to your Google+ account and author rank is definitely worth developing.  Anything that increases the authority and credibility of you as a content generator and of content that you have generated has to help with the visibility of pages associated with you as an author.

But managing author rank is not the easiest task.  Danny Sullivan has written an excellent article on some of the pitfalls and issues of Google author rank - it’s well worth keeping a note of as a source of reference.

Social metatags

On a related topic, here is another excellent article worth keeping to hand.  This one is by Cyrus Shepherd and looks at social meta tag templates. 



Hummingbird and keyword research

by Sally Kavanagh

Hummingbird, Google’s algorithm update that came online in Aug 2013, would appear to be much more fundamental than many previous updates, such as Penguin and Panda.  Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday – October 18th – gives some very interesting ideas on how Hummingbird will affect keyword research, or more specifically how Google is dealing with keywords and therefore how we, as SEOs need to.


Rand’s Whiteboard Friday can be found at – highly recommended!