What We Learnt From SAScon: Day One

Last week, the great and good of the SEO world descended on an unusually sunny Manchester for SAScon, a two day search, analytics and social media bonanza held at the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School.

I was lucky enough to attend the first day of the conference along with our Head of SEO Mithul. This was my first ‘proper’ SAScon (although I did attend SAScon Mini in December) and one of the things that struck me pre-conference was the sheer scope of the topics being covered at the conference. There was as much for a still-learning content-focused SEO such as myself to sink my teeth into as there was for an experienced SEO such as Mithul.

As the event is divided into three ‘tracks’, Mithul and I decided to take a ‘divide and conquer’ approach in order to cover the most ground. As such, this post only covers a small section of the talks on offer at the event. This excellent post by Koozai offers detailed coverage of most of the sessions, including the ones I’ve missed in this post!

Anyway, enough ramble; here are some of the important lessons I learnt!

Opening Keynote

Alistair Thompson, ThomsonLocal

After a delicious breakfast pastry or three (free food is not to be sniffed at…), a lovely Google tote bag and a brief opening gambit from SAScon sponsors Manual Link Building, it was time for the opening keynote from Alistair Thompson.

Alistair’s session mainly covered search for small businesses, covering the various approaches a small business could take to maximising their marketing budgets in order to get the greatest returns. Alistair advocated an all-encompassing approach to online marketing, stressing that organic or paid search alone is rarely enough for a small business to survive.

Some revealing statistics were also presented. The average small business spends £2,000 a year on marketing (a relatively small figure), which means that they are often priced out of the PPC market by bigger competitors with more fire power. However, Alistair also revealed that 20% of searches have a local intent, meaning that there is definitely a place for small businesses in the SERPs – providing they optimise correctly.

Perhaps most importantly, Alistair claimed that most small businesses are more interested in what leads a campaign has gained (and how much it cost to get that lead) rather than rankings. However, this focus tends to shift more towards ‘vanity’ metrics like rankings as the business in question gets bigger.

WordPress Luvfest: Maximising WordPress For Search

Simon Wharton, PushON & Bastian Grimm, Grimm Digital & Joost de Valk, Yoast

The first ‘choice’ session of the day and it was straight into the deep end with a few hardcore WordPress development tips. Admittedly, I rarely have to venture into WordPress code but the session was something of an eye-opener and provided plenty of actionable tips for the more technically-minded SEO.

First up was Bastian Grimm of Grimm Digital, providing some handy hints on how to make WordPress more secure from various web scoundrels. The technicality of the tips ranged from simple (deleting the original admin and assigning the credentials to a user you’ve created yourself, only using trusted plug-ins) to advanced (protecting wp-config.php).

I was particularly intrigued by the concept of Google’s 2 Step Verification system; essentially, you are sent a code via a Google App that you enter along with your password.

Here’s Bastian’s presentation in full (complete with images from Michael Bay explosion-and-attitude fest ‘Bad Boys 2’):


Joost de Valk of Yoast was next up the podium, covering schema and meta-data for WordPress. Chief among the topics discussed was the suitability of schema for e-commerce and the ever-controversial ‘author’ rich snippet pic. Interestingly, if you have both reviews and authorship marked up in your site, authorship will usurp reviews. For e-commerce, reviews are the option that will instil most trust in your site.

Joost also preached the benefits of rel=publisher for brands and revealed that Yoast are currently working on a version of their plug-in for Drupal.

Making It Personal

Barry Adams, Pierce Communications & Matt Roberts, Linkdex

Next up was two very differing opinions of Google’s increasing focus on personalised search courtesy of Barry Adams and Matt Roberts.

Barry’s presentation was an Orwellian peak into the future of personalised search, providing an intriguing and slightly terrifying scenario in which Google presents users with what they like…and nothing else.

Barry first covered the widely-known elements of personalised search – location, search history, browsing history, social circles and known interests – before delving into some of the personalisation we ‘don’t see’, such as the filtering of results based on political views and personalised maps, selling users to advertisers.

This culminates in something called the filter bubble, in which the SERPs are filled with sites you already visit and news from sites you share political leanings with. Essentially, you’re never exposed to anything new and users are polarised and herded into their own little worlds where everything is representative of their world view.

The dangers of this? People regularly get things wrong and are never exposed to alternative viewpoints, meaning that they never know they’re wrong. This leads to unshakable convictions based on flawed information. Barry’s solution? Stop using Google.

Matt Roberts’ talk took a slightly more positive stance on personalised search, while also preaching the benefits of investing in PR-esque relationships with link pros- sorry, bloggers. Matt explained how every blogger belongs to a network, and the key to ‘influence’ is to target the ‘key influencer’ is a network, the person who could potentially change the behaviour of others in the network.


Hotpot, red cabbage, potato salad, big jam tart and a cup of coffee. Five stars.

Google Analytics

Clancy Childs, Product Manager

Full from lunch, it was time to settle down and listen to words from a real life actual person who works at Google. OMG!

Clancy Childs’ keynote was a long one, covering many facets of analytics and web usage. In order to keep this post from reaching epic poem proportions, I’m going to first direct you to technologysauce.com, which covers many of the topics in Clancy’s talk.

And here are a few key points:

  • In 2012, there were 2 billion people online, accounting for 800 exabytes of data.
  • In 2020, there will be 5 billion people online, accounting for 53 zettabytes of data
  • Analytics needs to now cover multiple devices and account for transactions that begin online and are concluded offline.
  • UNIVERSAL ANALYTICS: universal data collection, can track data in ‘real life’ and across multiple devices.
  • One user across three devices currently counts as three unique users, meaning that people are overestimating how many unique visits they receive. User ID override will display that user across their three devices, giving you insight into processes.
  • ZMOT: Zero Moment of Truth, research before making a purchase (more on that later).

All in all, a very informative talk that included some bonus Google Analytics advert funnies too.

Social Proof and Online PR (ZMOT)

Matt Roberts, Linkdex & Nick Garner, Searchworks & Kevin Gibbons, Blueglass & Claire Thompson, Waves PR

A four-pronged talk covering the acronym of the day, ZMOT.  Zero Moment of Truth refers to the moment when a customer begins researching a product or a service, a moment that encompasses around 11 different points of information on average.

This session covered ways to maximise the ZMOT from a PR, SEO and content marketing perspective. Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • ZMOT is connected with customer’s emotions, therefore content needs to be too.
  • 40% people look offline for their ZMOT, making offline PR an important part of the marketing mix.
  • The more someone needs a product, the less research they are likely to do into it.
  • Treat content like a product; market it as you would with something you were looking to sell to customers.
  • Internet users don’t appreciate interruption anymore, making content vital at all stages of the sales cycle.
  • Target authority publishers with your content to reach new audiences.
  • Know what problems your product solves and share the story rather than pushing for sales.
  • Inspire your audience to buy, inform them and then let customers sell your story.
  • Relationship building with bloggers and customers is vital; can be built and cemented through ongoing content.

Managing Brand Reputation Online

Kristal Ireland, Enjoy Digital & Robin Wilson, McCann & Nils Mork-Ulnes, Beyond.

A PR-themed session looking at ways to manage and monitor your brand online in an effective manner. Some key takeways included:

  • Co-ordinate PR, SEO, Social and Ads for maximum effect
  • Monitor your brand and discussions around it constantly
  • Plan for certain scenarios, including any potential crises.
  • Have response protocols in place for damage limitation, making the most of positive news, etc.
  • Think like a newsroom; react to events quickly and in a timely fashion for maximum impact.

Nils Mork-Ulnes’ presentation delved a bit deeper into online brand reputation management, offering some useful, if somewhat surprising insights, into the behaviour of customers and brand management.

  • Experience-based word of mouth is seen as a trustworthy source of opinion on a brand, yet only 6% of word of mouth recommendations occur online. However, this small percentage is seen by a greater volume of people than offline.
  • People prefer to share good experiences more than bad ones.
  • A lot of companies only track quantative data, not accounting for qualitative factors.
  • Tracking and measuring brand reputation is essential; however, there is a 21% error rate in automated sentiment judgement, according to Coca-Cola. More effective to go through and review through human eyes.
  • Sound research methodology required for effective analysis of data; segment data to troubleshoot issues.
  • Most online conversations aren’t about brands, stay relevant and relate your brand to your customers’ issues and conversations.
  • White space analysis allows you to determine the conversations that could help your brand: conversations that fit your brand, that are large (or will be), that appeal to your audience or are generally interesting.

Social Media Meets PR Meets SEO

Judith Lewis, Beyond & Charlotte Walker, Karat & Karyn Fleeting, Stowe Family Law

Three worlds collided in this session, with Social Media, PR and SEO having a right old ruckus to decide which was best. Well, not really – it was actually agreed that we’re all pretty important to one another and was very cordial.

There was also chocolate offered in return for questions. I didn’t ask a question and regretted it on the chocolate-less journey home.

Here are some of the key points:

  • All three disciplines need to be used in conjunction with each other to achieve the best results.
  • PR outreach emails are generally more effective than SEO outreach emails, with a more personal touch and editorial incentives offered rather than financial incentives.
  • Pick up the phone and get in direct contact with bloggers, instead of always sending emails. Use an agency address for outreach rather than a generic Gmail address.
  • Change up the kind of content you offer bloggers – don’t always offer sponsored posts. Offer the blogger experiences and exclusives; the kind of content they have the final editorial say on.
  • PR budgets aren’t larger than SEO budgets; it’s all in your approach. All three disciplines can learn something from the other.

And that was that for day one, an informative and interesting day peppered with some lovely food and delicious coffee. As an SEO who is still very much learning the ropes, it was fantastic to be able to listen to some experienced marketers from across the spectrum offering their tips – I’ll certainly be utilising some of them in the near future.

Keep an eye out for my fellow SEO Copywriter Vicky’s report from day two of SAScon very soon!

  • Written by on 11th June 2013 at 12:11
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