BrightonSEO – Winter 2011

What You May Have Learned at BrightonSEO

Brighton SEO is a conference in… Brighton. About… SEO. This little blog post runs through the various talks people gave at BrightonSEO in September 2011. Among other things, you’ll find:

  1. A graph showing how badly Review Centre was hit by Google’s Panda update.
  2. A guide to Ruby Programming, as recommended by the lovely @SharkSEO
  3. A graphical representation of Bauer Media’s Social Media Strategy.
  4. Another graph showing Malcolm Coles bumping up his blog’s pageviews by 3000%.
  5. 36 slides from a former Margate FC player.
  6. A video of a man speaking about Portsmouth & horses.
  7. The link to an iPad wireframing app.
  8. A 5-minute mp3 of a man telling you how he personally made £2 million and how you can too. (this may be a slight paraphrase)
  9. A link to a video showing you how to actually get some value from Google Analytics new Multi-Channel Funnels reports.
  10. Some bits of my opinion that may be useful, or may be utterly misguided.

The event is run by Kelvin Newman, the world’s most successful Marketing Podcaster, and an all-round very lovely man. It was also (I hadn’t realised) sort-of started by the brilliant Jaamit. A man who I wish was still here. The conference is 100% free. This time around, 500 people signed up within 26 minutes.

The day consisted of 10 ‘long’ talks (each 20 mins), followed by 6 quick talks (each 5 mins). And they were a nice mix, with a range of technical talks, a few business talks, some motivational talks, and some talks sitting out on various boundaries of SEO, rather than slap-bang in the middle.

It’s one of those conferences full of actual hands-on people too. Jeans & t-shirts people, rather than two-tone shirt & cufflinks.

And – it was great fun. I got to meet about 10 people I chat to online but had never met, and I got to catch up with about 20 people I’ve met before and don’t get to see often enough. I’d very much recommend you come along to the next one. If you can’t find anyone to go with, feel free to come along with me as I’m sure I’ll go again.

Here were the talks:

Talk 1: Jonny Stewart – Google’s Panda: a Case Study

Review Centre were widely talked about as the ‘biggest losers’ in Google’s Panda update. Their entire business is reliant on search traffic, so this was obviously a massive deal for them. Jonny Stewart who heads up their SEO gave an honest talk about how they’d been hit, and what they’d done to try and ‘fix’ things.

Here’s the nasty graph showing how Panda affected them:

My take-aways were:

  • They believe Panda is on a 5-week rolling release schedule.
  • Once you’ve been hit, ReviewCentre believe it takes 4 months to ‘get out’ of Panda, presuming you’ve made the necessary fixes. (missed how this had been figured out – feel free to drop me a note/contradict me if you caught it)
  • A ton of work has gone into trying to ‘get out’, but – for them – nothing has worked. They’re in roughly the same position as the day the algorithm changed.

Jonny mentioned one of the big things they’d tried was to scale back AdSense. This had no effect after a couple of months, so they reverted back to their original layout.

If I’m honest, when I look at the Review Centre site, there are still places where it still feels a bit like a site from the ‘Keyword-Density’ era of SEO. But I think that was part of Jonny’s overall point, which was it’s really tough for them to fix things without throwing out the baby. I’d love to have a look around their Google Analytics account to see whether there are patterns among which pages have lost traffic from search / types of keywords they’re getting traffic from / etc.

Talk 2: Building a Private Blog Network – John McElborough

John – who runs his business iOptimal – spoke about a network of blogs he’s put together, and what he’s done to hide the fact that he owns all of them. Not surprisingly, this was one of those talks that took a lot of flak on Twitter for being spammy.

I think there are 2 angles on this:

  • Angle A) This guy is essentially trying to trick the universe, by obfuscating the fact that he owns a network of blogs, and is using those to generate links to other sites. (tough to argue against that)
  • Angle B) Other than scale, what he’s doing is no different from many big media companies, who have enormous networks of sites, with which Google has no problem.

Dom Hodgson asked a great question which I think spelled out why people feel those 2 are utterly different: the quality & value of content in the eyes of the audience.

I picked up some useful bits from this talk, which can be applied whether you’re the world’s biggest spammer (not me), or an altruist living in an ecoyurt on the South Downs (actually that’s not me either). Probably most useful was the tip that there are wordpress plugin for managing content across multiple blogs, even if they’re on different domains/servers/etc. Something I hadn’t thought to look for before.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, the full video’s up (albeit in 6 parts, and partially obscured by – I think – Chelsea Blacker & Kevin Gibbons’ heads) on SiteVisibility’s site.

Talk 3: Dave Peiris – Attracting Links

I know Dave as @SharkSEO on Twitter, and had no idea who he was (is) in real life. He comes across fantastically well on stage, and gave a brilliant “do it the right way” talk.

Dave Peiris

There were 3 themes in Dave’s talk:

Theme 1. Content to attract links:

You could just as easily have titled this “content to attract social shares” or “content to engage multiple audiences”.

The overarching idea was: Links, social shares, and media coverage are a result of (firstly) the perceived value of the content, and (secondly) the central idea in the content. You’re far more likely to succeed if you go ‘over and above’ with your content, rather than churning out commodity stuff.

Dave pointed out that – if your primary concern is ‘getting links’ – the content you create doesn’t necessarily have to be aimed at the same audience as your site itself. He went through a range of case studies including the brilliant OK Trends blog (did you know this is written by OK Cupid’s General Manager? they didn’t just hire someone in to do it).

Theme 2. Apps

He also spoke about apps, which A) have both a perceived higher value than regular content, B) allow you to execute an idea in unique ways, and C) can be ‘functional’ as well as just informative/educational/entertaining. Again, he went through various great ideas, both from apps he’d put together and from others.

Theme 3. Getting stuff done

Sometimes ideas work, sometimes they don’t. The time you put in to executing them often has a lesser effect on the success than the ‘bones’ of the ideas themselves. Therefore: try it fast, see what happens, scale up if it goes well, try something else if it doesn’t go well. Fail quickly, as they say.

Dave’s slides are available over at

In terms of getting going understanding/producing apps, Dave recommended Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby:


Talk 4: James Carson – How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Algorithms & Love the People

James is Head of Search at Bauer Media (the people behind FHM, Heat, Grazia, Practical Fishkeeping, Horse Deals, and many other internationally known media properties. He spoke about the overlap between ‘search’ & ‘social’.

In a great, wide-ranging talk he covered: Facebook Edgerank, the fact that PR companies now ‘own’ many large Facebook pages, that Panda is actually a good thing as it killed lots of ‘content theives’, the 10 factors that influence the shareability of tweets/facebook shares, and Bauer Media’s model for social media.

The 10 factors that influence shareability:

James referenced these 10 factors of facebook posts judged to increase the likelihood they’ll appear within the newsfeed (and, of course, increase the likelihood they’ll be shared):

  1. Ask questions
  2. Post games and trivia
  3. Interact with fan engagement
  4. Incorporate wall apps (such as the poll)
  5. Incorporate relevant photos
  6. Relate to current events
  7. Incorporate videos
  8. Post content for time sensitive campaigns
  9. Include links within posts
  10. Be explicit in your posts (tell fans what you want them to do).

Those came from Buddy Media’s “Facebook EdgeRank: How to Make Sure You’re in the Newsfeed” White Paper. (that’s a PDF link – extreme caution advised)

As James pointed out – you can tick many of those boxes at once.

Bauer Media ‘Social’ Model

Here’s James’ sketch of how he’s trying to grow & move their audience to improve Bauer’s results:

James’s blog has lots of great content over at

Talk 5: Erika Ungar – Friendly Ecommerce URLs

Erika runs Usability & SEO for Boux Avenue (the recently launched upmarketish lingerie company from Theo Paphitis).

Erika Ungar

She talked about a very specific angle of on-site SEO: friendly URLs on ecommerce sites, and took us through her process for going from her own ‘ideal URLs’. Here’s my bad summary:

  1. Put together an ideal URL structure.
  2. Watch it get totally watered down by ‘platform constraints’.
  3. Iterate.
  4. Compromise and end up with something in between.

Erika’s considerations were:

  1. Make sure product & category attributes with the most search volume were included within URLs.
  2. Avoid near-duplicate content where possible.
  3. Make sure all URLs are unique.

There were a few ‘more SEO than thou’ mumblings on twitter about having commas in URLs. I fell into a similar trap, and made a suggestion to Erika. Predictably it had been in her original plan, and was sitting somewhere in a development queue waiting to happen. Which I guess was the point of the very well delivered talk.

Talk 6: Malcolm Coles – Winning at SEO with Duplicate Content

Malcolm is an all-round SEO/content/online news genius.

He told us about a little experiment he ran to see how Google would cope with duplicate content among very fast-moving search terms. Here’s a graph showing the results:

He broke down how he’d created content related to massive news stories, and managed to get three copies of the same page ranking really well for their biggest terms.

Doing this spiked Malcolm’s traffic from about 1,000 pageviews a day up to about 30,000. When he stopped, the traffic vanished again.

There’s a full blog post explaining all the ins & outs of this over on Malcolm’s blog.

Malcolm showed a bunch of very large news sites using this tactic, and concluded “To be honest, you probably shouldn’t do this. It breaks Google.” Nevertheless, there were still folk who missed the point, complaining that he was encouraging people to use spammy techniques, etc.

Talk 7: Neil Walker – The Value of Links

Neil is CTO at Just Search. He spoke about ‘the value of links’, as seen by SEOs & as seen by clients.

As the basis of his talk, Neil ran a survey of SEOs, and a separate survey of clients, asking them what they valued when it came to links.

His key point was: People who provide SEO services care about granular link metrics. People who buy SEO services don’t often care about granular link metrics. Examples of ‘granular’ metrics are things like geographical location, reciprocal-vs-one-way, dofollow/nofollow, etc.

He found that much of the time, people buying SEO services don’t know what a ‘good’ link or a ‘bad’ link is. eg, many valued reciprocal links over and above one-way links).

The main takeaways were:

  1. Communicate with clients on their terms.
  2. Don’t report at an ultra-granular level if all it does is serve to confuse people.
  3. Educate your clients where you can.

A couple of other thoughts I had about this were:

  • A) On one hand, it’s great that clients don’t care about granular link metrics. Why should they? They pay for SEO services for the results, not necessarily for the process.
  • B) On the other hand, there are some not-so-great SEO companies out there, and building lots of ‘bad’ links can be at best worthless, at worst damaging. If someone doesn’t understand the nuts & bolts of what they’re getting, it’s easier to become ripped off.

Talk 8: Roger Warner – What Can Social Learn from Mad Men?

Roger Warner is MD of Content & Motion – an online comms agency (‘social media agency’) who work with lots of people including TomTom, Dell, Hackett, etc.

His talk was titled “What can Social Learn from Mad Men?”. As you might expect, it was about 50% clips of Mad Men, 50% Roger talking.

His ‘state of the nation’ summary was (utterly paraphrased): “I keep my eye on 240 brands on Facebook. When I wake up on a monday morning, I see about 200 of them asking me ‘How was your weekend?'”

The talk was essentially about changes in advertising caused by changes in technology use, how the old methods are thoroughly gone, that good advertising is built on ideas, and that advertisers have yet to learn how to build brands over the long term through new communications media.

Here were Roger’s slides:

Roger recommended ‘Hegarty on Advertising‘, a book I’ve tried to buy a few times before realising – each time – that it’s not available on Kindle.

Talk 9: Toby Barnes – James Bond: Architecture Critic

Toby gave a talk I’d seen before at Interesting North. He prefaced it by saying “I hope nobody’s seen this before, because I hate that when the speaker does a talk you’ve seen before”. Sorry, Toby.

Toby’s talk is about adapting to change, not thinking small, and all sorts of other things. He puts it a bit better than that. Here’s a video of the original version:

Even if you don’t watch the video, it’s worth reading this related blog post: “There is a Horse in the Apple Store” by Frank Chimero.

Talk 10: Dom Hodgson – My Hack Day Addiction

I’ve been to one of Dom’s ThinkVisibility conferences, and bought tickets to (I think) four others. I didn’t know anything about his ‘Hack Days’ though, but I love the idea.

In summary, Dom and his team hire venue for 100 or so people, haul a satellite van along for connectivity, and run a 24-hour competition to hack together the best app.

Apps developed at the last LeedsHack included:

  • SausageFest – a tool to find out the price of products valued in sausages instead of pounds.
  • 999 Now – a system to get volunteers to heart attack sufferers faster than ambulances.
  • SMSafe – a tool for securely saving important info on your sim card.
  • Barebones – an iPad wireframing app

Get in touch with @domhodgson if you’re interested in going along, or if you’re interested in him running one of these to solve problems for your company.

20:20 Talks

The final six talks of the day were in a ’20 slides in 5 minutes’ format. Here’s a quick run-down:

Talk 11: Sam Crocker How to Pitch SEO

This was a great talk. Here is the audio:

Sam Crocker on Pitching SEO by djbarker

5 bits that stuck in my head:

  • Be transparent.
  • If there’s a pitch – send along hands-on people, not just a gang of pitch experts.
  • Focus on your forecasting.
  • Use a performance-based pricing model. (ie, take some of the risk yourself)
  • Don’t pitch for everything.

Talk 12: Graeme Benstead-Hume – The Accuracy of Search Volume Estimation and Forecasting

I liked the topic here. Graeme compared various search volume estimation tools to judge their accuracy. He covered the AdWords Keyword Tool, WordTracker, and Google Analytics.

There were a few flaws in the methodology, a couple of which Graeme himself spoke about, and one of which came up as part of a question. But it was a good idea & I hope there’s more to come. I’d love to see this run with actual search impression volume (for example, gathered from PPC data), and compared against the Keyword Tool and Google Webmaster Tools.

Talk 13: Dara Fitzgerald – Beyond the Last Click: Finding hidden SEO value with Multi-Channel Funnels

Dara gave an overview of the new Multi-Channel Funnels reporting in Google Analytics. He did a great job, was a really impressive speaker, and covered quite a complicated topic & set of reports in just 5 minutes.

If you haven’t used them yet, Multi-Channel Funnels are well worth a look. Dara’s written a great overview on the FreshEgg blog. And if you’re trying to figure out where to start, there’s a great blog post from Tim Leighton-Boyce to get you started dragging actual value out of them.

Talk 14: Kane Bartlett – Driving SEO with PPC

I liked this topic too. It was the age-old ‘Does spending money on PPC increase the likelihood people will click your natural results?’. They’d run a test across four or five brands to see whether displaying ads impacted their natural search clicks.

It was interesting, and well delivered. There wasn’t enough information to be fully convincing, but very tough to do that in 5 minutes!

Talk 15: Rosie Freshwater – Market Research: Informing SEO and Link Development

This was a ‘market research 101’ type talk, tied to link development. There were some great suggestions, but again – with just 5 minutes – it was more ‘what to do’, and not much ‘how’ or ‘why’ or ‘here are some real-world examples’.

Talk 16: Rae Lovejoy – Delight in the Digital World: Why Settle for Customer Satisfaction

Similar to Sam Crocker’s talk, this was about the business side of SEO. This time Account Management, rather than Sales.

Rae came across really well, and I like the sound of the way she works. In summary, she was saying: To please your clients, aim for a great relationship as well as just great results.

That’s It

That’s it. The end. All of that in a day, for free, thanks to Kelvin Newman & his team.

Keep an eye on the Brighton SEO blog for the announcement about the next one.

If you’ve reached this far, you may also want to follow me – @danbarker on Twitter.