UK Search Conference 2013 Takeaways

I attended the UK Search Conference today at the Commonwealth Club in London (for the first time) and decided to listen to the speakers (there were quite a few) and (frantically) get down some notes and takeways from the talks. The keynote speeches were from some of the award winners at last year’s UK Search Awards ceremony.

(Apologies to any of the speakers if I misunderstood any points you made (there was a lot to take in!). Get in touch directly and I’ll make any corrections.)

Bas Van Den Beld, “Steps in Search: from authority to integration”

Bas is a well-known face at these conferences and writes regularly for He kicked off the talks today, focusing the question of authority.

The Google+ effect: you can now see [in your SERP results] not only what those in your circle have searched for or +1’d, but also what they have clicked through and viewed.

  • Always consider your audience
  • Thoughtless guest posting can be to the detriment of your credibility
  • Just as we consider the authority of people around us, then Google is doing the same
  • They [Google, Facebook, LinkedIn] “are connecting the dots”
  • 2 types of authority: celebs and people around us

On Facebook Search Graph:

  • You’ve got to stop thinking of your target audience as simply those who might consider buying your product – you have to consider their influencers.
  • Facebook Search Graph is giving us a tool to do this, but it’s difficult and it takes time and we have to convince clients that it’s worth it as it will deliver a better result.
  • It allows you to find out things about the users and that data will be available for a while until people realise they can close off their accounts from the search results.
  • The problem with it is that it will most likely cause a privacy row (this is already happening in Holland).
  • They might introduce an ‘opt in’ option, but it’s not a competitor to Google; it will introduce the option of searches within Facebook and those without; in other words, people are going to be using it to search for recommendations amongst their friends.
  • The EU might well push for Facebook and Google to explain to users more about how they can opt of our search results.

Takeaway: don’t focus on the channel; focus on the user.

Case Study 1 – Best SEO Campaign – Baking Mad SEO – Richard Kirk, Performics

Richard was talking about being tasked with a client with “making flour interesting”. The client was – a site owned by Silver Spoon (part of the big food group, ABF). There were some really nice ideas given here, specifically around outreach ideas.

Their first solution the agency came up with was to commission a new TV series for Channel 4 (called “Baking Mad”) and they had it headlined by a well-known chef. They also then added a load of video content to the website and saw a massive increase in branded traffic subsequently, but SEO was still bringing a lot of traffic for non-brand terms (PPC was also supplying a fair chunk of traffic).

When the Performics team took a look at the On-Site issues, they noticed that the Page Authority decayed rapidly throughout the site (down from the hompage), when compared to their chief competitor’s site. They also looked at internal anchor text use and noticed they had lots of branded and missing anchors.

The Performics SEO philosophy for this campaign was simply to:

“Create a great experience for both users and search engines. You’ll rank #1 when you deserve to rank #1.”

How? Reach out to authoritative sites and get them to recognise you as a good authority for recipes. In practice, how? Build decent links, but make a proper connection with the people linking to you. Try and get these people to become advocates for your brand.

From his self-confessed “w**ky slide”:

“Ask not what a blogger could do for your client, but what your client could do for a blogger.”

Don’t email anyone with a view to obtaining links, unless you have an idea which would interest the blogger. For example, they ran a competition asking bloggers for their best recipes. They also targeted fashion blogs who were getting into the idea of ‘designer cupcakes’ (and got involved in photoshoots). They even targeted students who had blogs (and provided free ingredients). They also created a section just to do something focused on the Jubilee celebrations (none of their competitors appeared to pick up on this opportunity).

Technical stuff is worth doing but has limited results nowadays, unless it’s to a scale (for big sites).

This was the only client who seriously invested in ‘seasonal SEO’ and this really worked for this client (valentine cupcakes, Halloween cupcakes, etc).

Case Study 2 – Best Use of Search Leisure – Smart Traffic and TrekwearPhilip Cheek, CEO & Peter Kelly, Head of Global Sales – “outperforming big name brands with SEO”

Smart Traffic is an agency with 190 employees worldwide, based in Bristol, with over 3,000 clients. Most of its revenue comes from Organic Search. Their talk focused around a campaign for one of their clients –, a brand outdoor clothing e-tailer.

One of the most interesting points they made was around keyword rankings. Trekwear sell brand only outdoor clothing and one of their suppliers, Craghoppers noticed that were ranking above them for their Craghopper products, so realised they were a good route to market and offered them a discount of their products. A good ranking position therefore had the knock-on effect of reducing Trekwear’s direct costs! You often think that clients focus on rankings simply to increase traffic, but this must have been a nice bonus for them.

Trekwear wanted Smart Traffic to see a 25% growth in YOY revenue as a result of Smart Traffic’s campaign. They also wanted to rank above certain brands and to obtain Page 1 ranking for all leading SEs.

  • The strategy Smart Traffic employed for this involved the following disciplines:
  • Split testing Landing Pages
  • Wide Keyword strategy
  • Seasonal SEO (e.g. focusing on walking boots for summer and ski boots for winter)
  • Campaign Management
  • Consultation
  • Tracking and Reporting
  • Analysis
  • On-Site Work
  • Off-Site Work
  • Recommendations

They also spent a lot of time on Landing Page Optimisation in order to increase conversions and a lot of time on content development and getting the right ‘keyword balance’. With link-building, they focused on relevance.

The result of all this? Look at these numbers! (And these were only the ones I managed to note down!! ):

  • 300% growth over 2 years
  • 44% revenue from organic search (£1.5m in 2012 and £3.6m since 2009 – turnover had been as little as a few hundred thousand when they’d started working with Trekwear)
  • Traffic up 350-400% from 2009 -> 2012
  • 281% per monthly increase
  • One keyword (‘snow boots’) delivered a 1967% increase in two years)!

Who says SEO campaigns don’t produce real, tangible, positive ROI?

Case Study 3 – Best PPC Management Software – FWM WeatherFIT – Tom Smith, Director of Search, Fast Web Media

Tom was talking about applying ‘weather thinking’ to PPC ad serving.  He gave an example of £577m being withdrawn from ATMs during one hot day as people headed to the pub; another example was search volumes for water pistols shooting up (no pun intended) when it was a sunny day. He also gave an example of WeatherLift working out there was a negative correlation between demand for sunglasses when there was cloud cover.

Fast Web Media ploughed through five years’ worth of data to work out correlations between demand for a lingerie client and weather conditions in different parts of the country.

Tom referred to a study by David McDermott,  on the subject. One of the conclusions from this study was that the higher the temperature, the less inclined people are to buy online but the more they are likely to spend (contrary to what you’d think would be the case). They could even work out exact optimal temperatures for online demand for particular product sets.

“Products have an optimal tempature”.

That was an interesting learning point. I’d never really considered the impact environmental conditions can have on a buyer’s behaviour, but it makes a lot of sense, of course.

Understanding Audiences – “The People Behind the Searches” – James Murray, Digital Insight Manager, Experian

James’ talk was looking at understanding your audience, but he had some interesting insights. He first started talking about the concept of ‘cognitive dissonance’: we all lie to make ourselves look good and you’re not likely to reveal everything about yourself online.

He then asked the audience how many people had visited an adult site in the past three months. Only one hand went up (I won’t say who it was) and then he published some stats on screen:

  • 3 minutes of every hour online is spent on an adult site
  • 13 minutes on a social media site
  • 10 minutes on entertainment
  • 2 minutes on email
  • 3 minutes on news sites
  • 3 minutes on business sites….

“The search bar doesn’t judge you” so you can ask Google questions you might not feel comfortable asking people in person. He gave some specific examples using a Wordcloud. (I’ve done a similar ad hoc study using our Google/Bing Suggest Keyword Research tool with some pretty interesting results).

There were 2.7bn search engines visits in December 2012 alone and it’s continuing to grow.

Experian knows 500 things about 49m people across 24m households – more than you’d probably know about your own close friends.

He asked the audience what they thought were the most popular gift searches in December. The answer? Onesies! Dear God!

(Tablet devices, when grouped together amounted to 25% of all searches, by the way).

He then gave an example of how you can examine purchase paths, using the pet food as an example: people searching using branded terms tended to go straight through to manufacturer’s websites; more generic terms went to content-specific landing pages or product comparison/review websites.

He then talked about their Experian Mosiac product which allows you to classify and segment different demographics based on lifestyles. He gave the example of different type of family travellers and luxury travellers – you can clearly see what people are interested in based on the search terms they use. You can even plot where they are in the country!

“Key channels work better for certain segments.”

Luxury travellers are more likely to respond to email, for example.

You can also find out what each demographic’s specific interests are. What kind of TV shows are family travellers interested in? Emmerdale. When you can narrow down to this level of detail, you can target specific audiences on Facebook e.g. Luxury travellers are one of the biggest user segments of Groupon in the UK. You can even narrow down by season so you know, for example, who to target with what in February, e.g. more affluent people tend to do their online research earlier.

Takeaway summary:

  • Everybody lies
  • Customers are becoming more demanding
  • Search gives you a huge amount of data
  • By understanding your target audience, you can plan how to interact with them very specifically.

Case Study 4 – Best Use of Search. Retail – “The Little Green Paint Company and the Fall and rise of SEO”, Simon Wharton, PushOn Media

PushOn is an agency, based in Manchester with 17 employees.

Simon’s opening statement was:

“I believe that SEO is dead”

He then went on to talking about the case study – a specialist paint manufacturer. One of their clients is English Heritage.

The result Push On were able to achieve was a 250%-300% steady growth over three years. And the work they covered included work in the following areas:

  • Site Development
  • SEO
  • PPC
  • Social Media
  • PR
  • CRO
  • Content Marketing
  • Inbound Marketing

He then went back to talk about “Dirty SEO”.

“Everyone hates SEOs. In many ways, we have been the downfall of our own industry.” [Referred to the inflammatory Paul Boag article]

“SEO is the single most important thing you can be doing for a client relationship.”

The SEO should be the ringmaster of everything. Don’t build anything unless you’ve “done the SEO bit”. This particularly frustrates Simon – being asked by clients to do the ‘SEO bit’ once they’ve already built their site.

He thinks SEOs should obsess over:

  • On-site
  • User XP
  • Re-marketing
  • Link quality
  • Copywriting
  • Content strategy
  • KW Research
  • Conversion
  • External content
  • Link Building
  • Code
  • Analytics
  • PR
  • Performance
  • PPC
  • User journey

“Rankings are just a step on the way [to ROI]”

Marcus Tober, CTO and Founder for SearchMetrics talked about their software (it was a nice presentation. Yes, it was a bit of a sales pitch, but there were plenty of Star Trek references, which is always going to go down well).

Q&A Panel

There followed a very entertaining Q&A session with Gareth Hoyle, Nichola Stott and Bas Van den Beld.

There were some great quotes (principally from Gareth). Nichola kicked off by explaining how she approached link building and outreach.

Gareth, in answer to a few questions, came up with the following quotes:

“Google isn’t your friend in SEO. You’re out to game the system and eventually the system will catch up with you.”

“One man’s ham is another man’s spam.”

Nick Garner asked the panel how to approach link building for brands with money to spend, but little to say that was unique about their brand. This led to an animated discussion and Bas told a story about the Harry Potter Wizarding World (a theme park int the US) and how they approached link building creatively just using 7 bloggers and achieving 500k results within a week. The subject of knitting needles also came up!

There was also a short discussion about how to deal with clients who just want to copy a competitor’s spammy backlink profile and just want you to buy links to get them there.

Richard from Performix and Gareth also discussed how Google might treat the odd SERP results where you find a domain completely dominating Page 1 (Gareth gave a few specific examples – “mortgages leeds” which is currently completely dominated by

All in all, that was a very entertaining forty minutes!

“All the stats you need to prepare campaigns for 2013”, Jon Myers, Commercial Director, Marin Software

Marin provides one of the leading PPC management platforms on the market at the moment and currently they have $4bn in search dollars under management by their clients on their software currently. Jon demonstrated what they analysis they could produce using this ‘big data’. This is something we also do with our data set here at Analytics SEO.

“Marketing to Marketers” – Dixon Jones, Majestic SEO/Receptional

Dixon picked up the award for Search Personality of the Year (well deserved – he’s well-known, well-liked and well-respected in the industry) and gave a presentation on building a business using the analogy of building an empire.

“The price isn’t always right; defying convention to improve Papa John’s bottom line” – Sri Sharma, Managing Director, Net Media Planet 

Sri was talking about working with a pizza client, Papa John, a business reliant on a franchise model.

They wanted to maintain and drive revenue, but offer their franchisees a better deal without discounting.

“The number one reason why people buy pizzas is that they’re hungry and they can’t be bothered to cook.” (obvious conclusion maybe, but it got a laugh!)

They considered three persona types:

  • A man leaving the pub
  • The commuter on the way home
  • Family watching something good on telly

They considered how restaurants marketed their offers.

They wanted to communicate with customers when they’re at their most hungry and not so price conscious. The message also had to be appealing.

They used their own in house data crunching software to work out specific peak times when each of their target personas were at their hungriest.

The results were fairly predictable (peaked during evening times).

A lot of searchers looked for voucher codes and these were not going to be their target customer base since they weren’t planning on discounting.

They therefore simply tried to compensate for the low in conversion by simply increasing the AOV. They did this by focusing on increasing orders for side orders and desserts (banoffee pies e.g).

They then used a focus group to come up with adjectives to describe food samples and used the terms the group came up when they worked their PPC Ads for both desktop and mobile devices. Clever! (SEOs often talk about trying to find out what terms people use when searching by simply asking their customer base.)

The result?

Profit was up 75% on desktop sales and 139% for sales through mobile devices!

The AOV went up 10% for desktop orders and 12% for orders placed with mobile devices!

Nice! Good job.

“How to Fail at an Awards Entry” – Judith Lewis

Judith gave an entertaining presentation on the common mistakes and odd entries the panel see when judging the Search Awards (chocolate was mentioned a few times, of course).

“Oh FFS Now What!” – Q&A Panel

The last session of the day involved a Q&A session with Bas, Kelvin Newman and Judith answering questions about the future challenges facing the industry and how this might affect what services agencies offer and how they may choose to specialise.

Judith felt one of the main challenges was still educating and placating clients every time there’s an update.

Kelvin felt one of the main challenges was a skills shortage. Another one was the public image of an SEO. Reporting was also becoming more challenging in order to prove an ROI from an SEO campaign.

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