Think Visibility 8: Full Write Up & Actionable Insights from the Experts
This is a guest post from Ned Poulter. Ned currently works as an SEO Manager at Quirk London, a marketing agency for a digitally enabled world.
On Saturday September first Think Visibility returned for its eighth (yes eighth!) installment. As always, Dom Hodgson (organiser of Think Visibility, resident SEO genius and sweet shop owner) not only got some of the worlds top SEO talent crammed into a couple of rooms in a casino in Leeds, but allowed us fantastic networking opportunities and an all-round great day of fun!
The topics in line to be covered were the expected plethora of knowledge, with everything from WordPress tips to life after penguin, content marketing (now a major discipline in SEO) to, errr, ‘pies, cupcakes, peanuts and Dave’…
I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of SEO conferences in the UK and can honestly say that none are as laid back and out-and-out fun as #ThinkVis; and that’s even before you get to the sheer amount that you learn during the day! There’s no agenda, plenty of top experts in the field and normally a good amount of fun to be had in the meantime (just as it should be). Not only should there be a well-deserved hat tip to Dom for organising this event but also to the sponsors, Manual Link Building and Link Building Toolbar, for making it happen.
As with most conferences it’s impossible to cover everything and I’ve never been a fan of trying to catch two talks by sitting through half of each of them, as you often fail to understand the key takeaways for either. I have given a detailed analysis of those talks I did attend below and included links to all of the slidedecks that I could find throughout the day, and there will no doubt be plenty of great in-depth coverage out there for the talks I may have missed.
The talks I attended:
- WordPress: Optimisation & Security (Bastian Grimm, Grimm Digital)
- Creating a Community Using WordPress (Charlotte Britton, Optimum Exposure)
- Shit My SEO Says (Andy Barr, 10 Yetis)
- What Types of Links to Buy/Acquire Post-Penguin (Chelsea Blacker, Quaturo)
- Coolhunting: How To Predict The Future Mining The Social Web (Steve Lock, GPMD)
- From Affiliate to Merchant (Richard Kershaw, Wish.co.uk)
This was one of the standout talks of the day for me. Bastian covered a plethora of knowledge on WordPress that would be useful for everyone from the very beginners right the way up to the seasoned pros. I have included links to some of the great plugins that Bastian recommended below, but if you are interested in WordPress then I would urge you to work your way through the entire slidedeck (embedded below).
- By the end of 2011 20-25% of all new websites will be built using WordPress
- Because WordPress has become so popular, it has become a target.
Section 1. Configuration
- Set your PermaLink structure as %postname%
- Author META data drop-down no allows easy setting up of rel=author
- Tip: Uncheck date in posts unless publishing news
- Disable the author archives if you’re the only person writing for the blog
- Most important thing is to check all of the permalink settings boxes – this disables some of the nasty things that WordPress puts to URLs
- Clean your URL slugs using the WP Permalauts plugin – it removes non-standard characters from URLs
- SEO Data Transporter – transfer info from different SEO plugins.
Section 3. Plug-Ins
- Important tip: Make absolutely sure you only use plug-ins from trusted authors…
- WP-Pagenavi – WP pagination sucks, this helps to get around that
- Yet another related posts plugin – Helps to link to similar/relevant articles on your site
- SEO Friendly images uses post title to optimise alt tag for images, ensures that you have a fully optimised pages.
- Redirection – Does exactly what it says on the tin
- Schema Creator – Great plugin from the guys at Raven that allows you to mark up data for rich snippets
Section 4. Security
- Theme Authenticity Checker (TAC) – Checks themes for hidden/nasty code before it’s even installed.
- Tip:Keep your installation clean – remove inactive plugins.
- WP Updater Notifier – Emails you when core themes/plug-ins are updated. Good way of managing multiple sites and ensuring that all plugins are up-to-date
- WP AntiVirus
- Secure WordPress – Blocks malicious URL requests
Section 5. Maintenance
- Theme Test Drive – Live-test themes on the server without anyone else noticing.
- BackWPup – Enables backups of site, including all settings (sometimes this is hard to achieve). Also has a nifty feature to backup to DropBox.
- Term Management Tools – Enables mass merging of tags and category structures
Section 6. Performance
- Smush.it – reduces image size on site reducing page load time on
- Spriteme – Combines background images into a CSS sprite
- Tip: Check how well your changes to improve page load time have worked by using YSlow.
- SSL Logins and Administration – If you’re travelling a lot then make changes to ensure that you’re logging in over https, this will help to avoid ‘sniffing’
Although I haven’t included any bullet points, Section 7 was entitled ‘Scale That Shit!’ and 8 ‘WP-config.php Tweaks’ and I’d recommend you look at the slides (embedded below) and work through them yourselves!
Slides can be found here: http://gdig.de/think12
It seems that there was a heavy slant on WordPress during Think Visibility 8, which I certainly didn’t mind! Charlotte’s presentation was based on the example of On Landscape – an online photographing community ran by herself that gets approximately 20,000 visits a month. She explored some great considerations to have if developing an online community
- Online communities are not just blogging/tweeting/posting content for the sake of it – although this brought an audible gasp from the audience.
- Online community a definition: "Where a group of people with similar goals or interests connect and exchange information using web tools" (Jeremiah Owyang)
- Paid for vs. freemium models – You need to create value in your content, it can’t just be blog posts!
- Tip: Go for a magazine style with specific dates for release of the ‘next issue’ it creates demand
- Ask yourself what membership model you should use? – Monthly, biannually, annually?
- "The more niche you can go the better" – You’ll find a passionate, engaged audience in real niches.
- Research your niche market
- Start engaging in existing forums; build up a profile to develop yourself as a trusted source in other forums and blogs.
- Balance written content with video/audio content – Charlotte found video content particularly popular on On Landscape
- Engage/approach guest authors (once monthly was recommended) + crowdsource content
- It’s vitally important to manage subscriptions and content!
- Ensure that, if required, you define subscription levels
- You can use plugins to help manage your membership, Charlotte recommended Your Members/S2 Members
- Consider integrating your community with email subscription so you can email people when a new issue is released – helps to drive traffic (Recommend using Campaign Monitor/MailChimp)
- Hold off from launching forum or other similar functionality until interactions have grown
- Free content is a good way to engage & drive visitors
- Simply put, invest in the best you can afford when it comes to servers – if your server crashes there is a very small window where you can lose a lot of engagement; and they might not come back!
Skillset required for developing your online community (think of it like an intimate digital agency):
- WordPress Development & Design skill
- Content writing
- Moderation & community creation
- Social media
- Note: These might all be the same person!
Lunchtime entertainment consisted of statutory ‘ThinkVis gameshow’. This time round a ‘Blankety blank’ format was adopted, cunningly entitled ‘Rankety Rank’. The panel were some of the Manual Link Building team who I have to say, approached the stage with caution (I have a feeling that they were scared based on previous events consisting of Weakest Link and Who Wants to be a Millionaire formats).
This culminated in a not-so competitive retro rendition of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon – yes, the retro video game. Unfortunately, due to technical issues this didn’t quite pan out, which received comments of "this wouldn’t happen at BrightonSEO" (controversial, I know).
The talk started with an amusing introduction from Andy saying that he’d worked for some of the most hated companies and that’s why he wasn’t worried about being rather brash in this session.
It’s interesting to hear that 10Yetis have just partnered with Bronco, Yorkshire based SEO firm headed by SEO rockstar Dave Naylor. As this presentation was positioned to look into the ever-blurring lines between SEO and PR, and that Andy was attempting to firmly establish that SEOs aren’t PRs and conversely PRs aren’t good SEOs.
10 Shit tips from SEO’s about PR tactics (i.e. things that you should definitely not do for WebPR)
- Use PRWEB.com
- Add more keyword to the release please
- Same release for wires and journos
- Add images – I’ve heard they can make a story
- Pitch via Twitter
- Put long links into our release for ‘linklove’
- How can we make this ‘go viral’
- PR’s don’t like asking for links – SEOs do
- Forgetting to tell the PR agency about linkbait campaign
- If we get enough bloggers to write it up – journos will do
- Get it on Techcrunch and everyone will write it up
How to do PR correctly
- Only 2 good wires in the UK – Realwire.com and DWPub.com (responsesource/Sourcewire) Tip: You can specify countries on Realwire.com
- Good PRs make it easy for themselves (sell it to PA – Press Association and you’ll get great coverage, Note: It’s very tough to get on!)
- The sell-in is more important than the release writing
- Always look abused when someone uses the term ‘go viral’
- Learn on experienced journo freelancers (give it to them as an exclusive and get them to sell it in for you)
- Face-to-face relationships are still key
PRs need to realise
- Stop being so snooty about what we do
- Stop pretending that WE GET SEO and ASK FOR HELP
- Share or die
- We can get more budget by licking SEOs faces
- PRs need to fight our corners more
Check out Andy’s slides here.
Chelsea went about exploring some winners and losers in the voucher industry to understand how the usage [and poor usage] of anchor text after Google’s Penguin update has shown that the overuse of target keyword anchor text has dirtied many webmasters link profiles. Essentially she was exploring where linkbuilding ‘all went wrong’ with regard to over-emphasis on anchor text. This is something that many spammy SEOs were hit with when Penguin rolled out.
It was interesting to see that using the voucher code site examples that they have shown real success in ranking for keyword terms by using optimised image links.
Chelsea’s talk was really informative and touched on several things that I’m actually very passionate about. There is a time and a place for not 100% pure linkbuilding [industry dependent] but essentially if you’re spinning poor content and you’re complaining about how Penguin affected you then STOP DIRTYING UP THE INTERNET; it’s not big and it’s not clever.
The key takeaway is that the quality of it’s search results is Google’s business; if this falls then people will look elsewhere. This is why Google makes algorithm updates and if you’re messing up their search results then they’re going to do their best to kick you out.
Steve’s talk took a bit of a different direction to the other talks of the day, focusing more on storytelling and exploring the area of ‘coolhunting’, something I think many people had never come across before. In order to help you out here are some definitions that Steve laid out for us:
- Coolhunting – Using someone else’s network to access data to predict trends.
- Coolfarming – build your own network and nurture it to provide these insights into your community and predictions for the future.
- COIN – Collaborative Innovation Networks
The talk started with an introduction to ‘coolhunting’, it is a fairly new field (even that it has it’s roots in history) and is something that MIT are doing research into it at the moment.
The idea behind coolhunting is the ability to identify trends before they happen to capitalise on them, Steve said "The earlier that you get involved with a new trend, the more money you can make". This seems obvious, but the important things for industries is to uncover how you get to the point where you can predict this trend? This is where coolhunting comes in.
The worlds biggest international technology companies are spending a lot of time researching coolhunting because of this. This argument was outlined with examples of coolhunting’s applications, such as:
- Predicting Hollywood Box Office takings and election results – to a high level of accuracy
- Google predicting flu outbreaks
- Guiding business decisions product development roadmaps
- And even MajesticSEO predicting election results using backlink data
- Many of the ways that companies are approaching this is very similar to SEOs conducting backlink analysis, analysing competitors link profiles to identify linking opportunities.
The ‘Cisco Galaxy effect’ – built a large community using academic communities and investors to help to guide their acquisitions. This led to them having an impeccable record in terms of acquisitions.
BBC research believes that this sort of behavior could be the next step in the human race. When we consider this with the modern world and the borderless nature of industry enabled through the Internet, collaboration can now happen between anyone in the world; making this a very real proposal.
There are a huge amount of additional links included in the presentation (below) that could help your journey into ‘coolhunting’. But Steve also recommended those interested in this field and serious about their data, should look to develop Python skills, while Excel is very good too but it doesn’t have the fluidity of Python. There are some great courses where you can start learning this on Udacity (it’s free!) and elsewhere on the Internet.
Additionally Steve recommended reading some of Peter Gloor’s books, such as:
Richard finished the day with a keynote speech discussing his move from several years spent with affiliate marketing to how he set up Wish.co.uk after. Wish.co.uk specialise in experience days (much like Red Letter Days) and Richard identified this as a niche, but potentially very profitable market. Wish.co.uk was set up as a very lean start up, with the view to ultimately offering a better service to competitors in the industry.
Richard showed us how they have become very successful by focussing on particular USPs, as odd as it seems these include:
These garnered a huge amount of press coverage; not only was there coverage in many UK newsparers, they also had a tweet off Simon Pegg and have celebs like Jamie Oliver as some of their customers!
Richard’s key rules for affiliates are:
- Be the boss
- Better margins
- Bigger opportunities
- “The first decision that you’ve got to make is what you’re going to be selling, which sector should you focus on. Look at top performing metrics, look for high margins and at the end of the day look for something fun!”
- “Real artists ship” – Don’t get stuck in the startup phase forever
- Tip: Read ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries
- Get a USP ASAP, it’s the foundations of your business and will be THE single thing that defines your business, trying to compete with big brands is VERY hard they will be price competitive
- If you’re looking to build a team, build it out of freelancers – there are hiccups with this process but it avoids the financial and legal constraints of setting up a business
- Don’t spend money on things that don’t produce revenue
All in, setting up Wish.co.uk consisted of:
- $0 – Magento open source e-commerce
- $80 (pm) – Cheap[ish] hosting
- $119 – WordPress theme from Thailand
- £2000 – Freelance developers
- £2000 – Lawyers/legal fees
- £3000 – Content creation
- £8000 – Domain
Listening to your customers was something Richard identified the competitors were doing poorly. He recommended the following tools to listen to your customers:
- Qualaroo – on-page feedback, try asking ‘what one thing would you change about this page
- eKomi – user reviews on eKomi (helps to get star ratings next to your PPC ads)
- Olark – Livechat, probably their biggest support channels now.
- Tip: If you’re in a sector where nobody is bothering to speak to customers, you can quite easily find opportunities that your competitors are missing.
As I hope that I’ve demonstrated in this write up, Think Visibility 8 delivered to its fullest as it always has done. Whether it’s allowing the attendees to discover new speakers with interesting takes on search and social, or hearing from the seasoned pros that are prone to appear at some of the major conferences like SMX Advanced and SES (without the huge ticket prices) ThinkVis delivers across the board. If you’re new to the industry, wish to try your hand at SEO and related topics or are simply looking to network with common-interest individuals then Think Visibility is certainly a conference that you should check out.
Slides from the talks I missed:
I welcome any comments or input that anybody has from the day; I’ll ensure that I respond to them all.
Ned currently works as an SEO Manager at Quirk London.