My Brighton SEO 2017

I haven’t been to Brighton SEO for a number of years. 2013 was my last visit, I think. Since then I’ve had various clashes each year, and I was sure 2017 was going to be the same. For some reason, I wasn’t making the UKs biggest search marketing conference – on my door step no less – a priority in my year.

This year was no different, using almost valid excuses (newborn baby, any work time needing to be spent on client work) not to buy my ticket once I’d missed out on the early registrations. With the tickets gone, I was content with not attending until 2018 at the earliest.

Then I spotted a tweet by the lovely Hannah Butcher (@HannahFButcher) about a spare ticket, and very quickly it was mine. A quick trip on the 08:46 from Haywards Heath and I was there.

Brighton SEO 2017

The first thing I noticed that the venue had changed. Even in 2013 it was “a long way from a room above a pub”, but with the move to The Brighton Centre we’re firmly into ‘international conference’ status. I was excited, and there was a definite buzz around the place that wasn’t just fueled by coffee.

Quick bit of recce work and it was time to head to Auditorium 1 for the first session: “The Future of Search”.

Session 1 – The Future Of Search

Before session kicked off, we had a decent video into from The Main Man(tm) Kelvin Newman. This was simulcast across the various auditoriums and meetings rooms to ensure all of the [FIGURE] visitors got the same warm welcome. Kelvin essentially asked whether we should be scared of our impending robot overlords, before showing that Alexa was rubbish and t-shirt cannons don’t work. I think we’re OK for now.

Raj @ Yext

First ‘proper’ speaker of the day, Raj had the task of getting us off to a good start. He did. His engaging talk centred around a pivotal question: “How scared are you, as a marketer, that voice search means there’s no screen and you won’t know what’s returned?”. Many in the room felt this scenario would be a nightmare, but my gut feeling is that it’s a similar situation as when Google came along and grabbed up from the directory searches of old. No doubt speakers then were asking “How scared are you, as a marketer, that Google search means there’s only 10 links per page of results?

Raj moved on to talk about the fact that we spend far too much time optimising websites, and not enough time optimising the myriad of other platforms which send data to search engines to result in rich organic results. We should be doing more not just for the situation with structured data today, but because toddlers now are already doing their searches with voice. When rich data is powering voice searches, and those toddlers are the buying public, will you be wishing you’d invested in optimisation of external platforms?

Raj finished by introducing the term “Digital Knowledge Management”. I don’t often like new terms for the same old actions, but this one seems to fit. I’ll explore that more in future posts.

Purna @ Microsoft

I struggled with Purna’s talk to begin with, but absolutely NOT through any fault of her own! I guess this talk is the first one I’ve seen in a while which really drummed into me that I’m not part of the generation which most marketers need to be thinking about now. We’re talking about Gen Z, and how they communicate primarily with images. So I didn’t get where Purna was going when she showed that you can get pictures of pizza by searching for pizza. My notes so “so what?”.

Then things got interesting. If you can search with images, then you can realise what is contained in the image and serve up content based on that. Looking at an image of a show home on Pinterest? What if that image automatically tagged itself with links to the various pieces of furniture in the pic? Purna likened this to the “Shazam of images” and I like that idea.

Then we moved onto mixed reality, and that’s where I got really into her talk. Thinking of customers being able to ‘try before they buy’ in mixed reality is seriously interesting. I’ve mentioned a log cabin retailer client of mine before, imagine if you could go to their site and then beam their cabins into your garden in mixed reality! I can’t say I’m not exploring that option… The same things can and are happening in other retail sectors, like makeup.

After this talk, I’m definitely looking into how I can become more adept at leveraging the future of image in search. You should too.

Will @ Adapt Worldwide

I’ve got to be honest here, I was pretty glazed over for Will’s talk after the previous two. Essentially, though, Will was speaking excellently on the problems of globalisation for brands – having to produce more content, on more platforms, against more competitors, with less spend, and less time available for each.

Good takeaways included the fact that like-for-like translations are more trouble than their worth. We should be aiming for “transcription”, which means producing content for separate markets concurrently to get the most from each.

​Session 2 – SEO Audits

After a short break, I moved over to Auditorium 2 to take in the SEO Audits session. It was a last minute decision to move here, I was intrigued in the Python side of things. I do a lot of work in Python to automate the labour intensive side of this work, so I wanted to see if I was missing anything.

I was not expected this room to be so PACKED. Literally standing room only. I never imagined seeing this many people interested in writing Python scripts…

Ani @ Vistaprint

Ani kicked us off with her introduction to Python. This was the main talk I was here for, so I was looking forward to some good use cases and examples of how Python had helped her do her job. Unfortunately there really wasn’t much in this talk. Ani mentioned that you can write scripts to ensure quality assurance, and that automation increases productivity, then quickly moved to an example which would involve manually updating an Excel spreadsheet for the script to work. Eek.

Another unfortunate moment came 10 minutes in, with the first mention of “ask your developer” – I think most of the people in the room were looking for some practical tips. I feel like many left the room feeling underwhelmed, and just as confused about what Python actually is and what it can do. A real shame.

Phil @ Found

I stuck around in Auditorium 2, mainly because I was wedged into my seat in the middle of a row and I’m far too British to get half a row to stand up mid session. I’m glad, because Phil got the session back on track.

Although we now moved away from Python, Phil gave some good example of issues that many of us will face in our time on the web, and how to combat them. Things like “noindex” on launch, and changes in URL structure by a ‘minor’ change by a client.

The mantra here was ‘monitor (with something like Python), catch, fix’. I, like many others I’m sure, left this planning to add some tests to the daily scripts I run to alert me to any issues.

Andreas @ ARTIOS

Andreas was all about Machine Learning, and once again by the third talk of a session I was still thinking of the other two. That said, there was some interesting stuff in this talk about statistically finding out “what matters” at scale. Working out, for instance, a number of backlinks you might need to build to get to position 1 for a given search. More interesting to have a number than just “more”, for sure.

Andreas was also the first mention for me of the programming language “R” in a marketing context. More on that later…


Shout out to Wetherspoons’ App for being great for those of us who lunch alone at these events – sitting down and ordering beer and burger from my phone was very useful.

Also shoutout to EST on East Street as well for being the first craft beer pub I found, and also for being empty. Both great things for someone who wanted no queue and somewhere to write the first bit of this post!

Session 3 – Site Speed

This was another last minute change of plan, going for a session that could well have been full of things I was already familiar with. Site speed is a pet favourite of mine, so on first instinct I should have gone to a session with more learning scope. I couldn’t resist though, so in I went. Fairly packed by the time I got there, so another seat at the back where I bumped into fellow data geek and local Steve Rowling.

Mark @ IIH Nordic

Here’s that second mention of the programming language R. Mark starts off saying that slow sites cost money (uh oh, should have gone to another session…) before starting to talk about pre-rendering. I’ve always liked the idea of the prerender tag, but never found a good way to implement it. Mark had the answer.

Using R, Mark showed how to take data from Google Analytics and manipulate that data to show the most likely next URL for any visitor given their current URL. That data is then fed into Google Tag Manager and used to create a custom tag to launch the prerender. Clever. Mark showed that he’d seen a 30% increase in page speed, with only a 50% accurate model. There’s some real potential there, which I’m already exploring – which is admittedly why this post is a little late.

One point to note, though. Mark was working on pages that had a SEVEN second load time. Personally I’d go with some other optimisation routes first, before looking at something this clever, but that’s a minor negative to his talk.

Barry @ Polemic

Barry was not “actively” trying to swear. Got to 3 within 2 minutes. I like a good swear, but this is a good point to bring up an important point: it doesn’t actually make your talk any better. Seems like a lot of speakers these days are using it to appear less nerdy than they are. You’re nerds, embrace it.

That done with, Barry didn’t need the language to make his talk better, it was already a very interesting take on whether AMP is worth it. The short answer is NO. Not yet, anyway. Unless you’re in news, but then you already knew that.

The main takeaway here was that AMP implementation decisions should finish at “wait and see”, and that it’s better at the moment to optimise current mobile pages than build new ones to the AMP standards. Unless you would be better off rebuilding anyway, of course, in which case go AMP.

Bastian @ Peak Ace AG

Bastian apparently has issues. He’s in good company, then, in a room full of search marketers specifically interested in site speed!

Some stats from Bastian first: 47% of visitors expect loading times of less than 2 seconds. 40% will leave if the site doesn’t load within 3. That’s pretty awful for Mark’s site from earlier…

To squeeze some extra speed from your site, Bastian suggests:

  1. New Image Formates
    • Guetzli for JPG
  2. Don’t use custom web fonts
  3. Use HTTP/2
    • Definitely, if you can get it with your host!

All fairly usual stuff for a site speed talk, but delivered well.

​Session 4: MIA

Unfortunately, I had to leave before session 4 happened. If anyone went to the “Business” section and wants to share notes I’ve love to see them!

In Closing…

I’m really glad I managed to get to Brighton SEO this year – after a long break it was great to see how Kelvin and the team have brought the event on. I’ll be back, for sure.

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