10 Years in Search – Interview with the Founder of brightonSEO

Kelvin Newman is famous for setting up BrightonSEO in 2010. He shares how he began and what are the next plans for the conference and search conferences in the future.

1. You are well known for starting brightonSEO in 2010. We all know it started in a pub but can you share the motive behind this?

BrightonSEO was started accidentally. I was working in SEO in Brighton and suggested to some other local SEOs that we could get together and talk shop over some beers. I booked a room above a pub, more people than I expected turned up and it has grown from there. That informal ethos is still there for our events 10 years later, just with about 4000 more people!

Brighton Pier

2. When did you think you could make brightonSEO a regular event?

The second brightonSEO happened a few months after the first but I think by the third event in 2011 it felt like this had become a ‘thing’. We booked a proper venue for the first time and started to formalise some of the behind-the-scenes stuff though it was still just a side project for me. It still took some time before we got things like a website set up, we existed as a hashtag on Twitter for a while before putting other more traditional types of marketing in place.

3. How many years after starting brightonSEO did you then form the company behind it? 

In 2012 we spun off the events into Rough Agenda, the company behind brightonSEO and our fringe events.

The popularity of BrightonSEO

4. How many people were working on brightonSEO before the company was formed?

I think people are often surprised at how small the brightonSEO team is. We have a handful of freelancers who work part-time on the event all year then we pull in more help in the week of the event. Even now, with our roster of seven conferences each year, the core team is fewer than ten people. 

5. Some organisations do not like their staff to go out of the office at training events. How can you encourage companies to send their team to search events in the industry?

I’m always surprised when people say their boss won’t let them go to training events and conferences. Our industry is always moving so fast so I think it’s essential to stay up to date plus the value of the personal development for employee satisfaction and retention shouldn’t be underestimated (but I would say that right?).

You only have to look at tweets from the conference to see how much people are learning from our speakers, trainers and other attendees. It’s great to see tweets afterwards too where people are sharing the results of implementing the things they’ve learned.

6. What have been the biggest changes in the search events industry since you started the first brightonSEO in 2010?

The search industry is so much broader now embracing disciplines across content, technical, technology and strategy. ‘Content is king’ just doesn’t cut it anymore. 

We have conference tracks covering so many aspects of search now and topics like mental health, wellbeing and diversity are becoming increasingly popular too. I think it’s great those topics are being discussed in the industry and it’s not all about working silly hours and unrealistic targets.

We’ve launched fringe conferences for people who want to specialise in particular fields such as analytics and conversion rate optimisation, paid social, search advertising and digital PR.

Kelvin Newman and SEO Jo in September 2012

7. Can you share what you have installed next for brightonSEO?

Well April 2020’s conference is our 10th birthday too so we’ll have some special treats as well as our usual range of talks, training and nerdy bits.

8. Where do you see the events industry going in 2020 and onwards?

I think there are two trends which might sound like they’re conflicting but I think there is space for both approaches. On one hand I think there are going to be more smaller, regional and/or specialist events but also the continuation of the large broader events (which is good news for us!).

Speakers at BrightonSEO

9. What is the best thing about organising brightonSEO ? (and the worst)

For me, obviously the talks are great and we see some really interesting stuff every time, but I love the little moments. We’ve seen nervous first-time speakers supporting each other and kids wearing SEO t-shirts their parents have tie-dyed at our events.

The worst bit is how hectic things can get. We have a great team working on the event and I’m getting better at stepping away from being involved in every tiny detail and staying away from Twitter to be more present at the event.

Thank you Kelvin for taking the time to speak with us at Authoritas. We are already looking forward to brightonSEO next April. We have been live streaming the event for years and this time were able to record two stages, meaning those who were not able to attend could still see many key presentations. Watch some of these great speakers online.


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