How to create engaging content and other important SEO lessons

Here are 13 SEO lessons our head of search Jez Booker and our analytics genius Sandra Padilla took from a recent trip to an SEO conference in Brighton.

Brighton SEO is one of the most important events of the online marketing industry in Europe with speakers and attendees coming from different countries, reflecting the growth of the online marketing industry over the last years.

The pair had the chance to attend the conference day, when a line-up of industry experts from different companies within the digital scene stepped up to provide some very interesting advice for SEO specialist and also for those interested in optimising their personal or company website.

  1. The importance of engagement

Perhaps the most useful talk of the day was about how the Google’s infamous Panda update is still having much more of an impact on search results than many people seem to realise. And there’s one major way that websites can safely exploit this is a way that Google will never object to. This talk came from Yorkshireman Tim Grice of Branded3 (who have strong connections to Google, so when they talk it’s useful to listen).

He started his talk from the perspective that everyone did their nuts when Panda update was introduced and punished duplicate and low-quality content. It’s good that everyone hurried to remove duplicate content and so on, but Panda is still live now and still evolving. Lot of SEO agencies forget that.

The main thing about Panda is it rewards engagement. Google have tried to do search results without link as main driver and the results are poor. Links therefore remain core but engagement is second most important. Things to look out for in analytics are bounce rate, pages per view, time on site, etc.

Tim showed a case study where for one site Branded avoided looking to increase links but instead looked for pages with good visitor numbers but high bounce rates, which they looked to slash the bounce rates by offering more other places for people to go after they read the article or during reading. That’s all they did. The result was that search engine visitors increased for the whole site.

The team have done other experiments and are absolutely convinced engagement is supreme factor in the algorithm. So the lesson is to offer people options on the page. If people are leaving quickly that’s because there’s nothing more to do on page. And it doesn’t have to be to other pages on your site, link anywhere to relevant and/or interesting. Here’s a link to Tim’s slides.

  1. How to create content ideas

According to Jez, the ‘best talk of day’ was from Mancunian lass Stacey Cavanagh (@staceycav), head of search for agency Tecmark. Confident and funny, she was a great speaker and talked through some great strategies to create ideas, some from German academics, others from books like Vance Packard’s ‘Hidden Persuaders’ (1960s), or from advertising agencies.

One memorable one was the 6-3-5 brainwriting technique, developed by Professor Bernd Rohrbach, that is perfect if you need to generate lots of content ideas. This technique produces 108 ideas in half an hour. You need 6 people, each of whom writes 3 ideas down in 5 minutes in response to a problem statement. Then everyone passes their 3 ideas to their left and these new ideas then inspire each person to write 3 more. Then repeat every five minutes til the half hour is up and you have a several killer ideas among the bundle.

This isn’t instead of other methods of idea generation, such as verbal brainstorming, crowdsourcing etc, is meant to be as well as those. Then you can sit down and work out which ones have legs – maybe using NUF testing, a quick reality check process, where participants rate an idea on three criteria: to what degree is it New, Useful, and Feasible?

 

  1. How to get your content out there with the personal touch

It’s all very well got content and ideas but how do you then publicise your new articles you’ve come up with? Stacey went through a few ways she does it via ‘natural linking’. You can’t buy links – google will penalise you, but you can still push this out in genuine way.

She mentioned a few ways (which are entertainingly presented in her slides). One of which emphasised the importance of a more personal touch: she sent out hundred emails to contacts in certain industry saying ‘would you be interested in commenting on this piece we’ve written?’. Got a response rate of something like 14%. Then they telephoned another 30 or 40 people and got 25% positive responses. Then writing a physical letter with ink and stamps and everything to a few more and got 40% resp. This showed as the more personal touch gets more response.

Another study she cited showed how if you can get buy-in on a small thing, then going back and asking for a lot bigger thing is a lot easier. So asking ‘would you be prepared to put a poster up in your window publicising this event?’ 0.5% of those asked said OK. But if you ask ‘if we give tiny sticker to put on car would you do it for us?’ 5% said OK and when they returned to those 5% who put sticker up, most said yes to the suggestion of putting a massive billboard up in their front garden as they’d already taken part in the ‘buy in’ process.

  1. Important things to monitor during a site audit

One of Sandra’s main takeaways from Pete Handley (@ismepete) and his talk on SEO auditing checklist and processes was about process he follows when auditing a site.

brighton-seo-pete-handley

After the updates to search algorithm updates from Google and especially after the major update Hummingbird, there’s been a lot that have been said and speculated upon about how SEO has changed. For many, the technical aspects of a website are not as important as they used to be on the SEO strategy. There was a flow of articles proclaiming the death of SEO, or at least as we know it. For us at The Internet Works, technical aspects still matter and that’s why it was reassuring listening to Pete’s talk.

Pete is an experienced and well-known figure in the SEO world and he took us through the process he follows when auditing a site – and the tools he uses for this purpose (his favourite is undoubtedly Screaming Frog).

Apart from identifying and fixing the common issues, such as 404 errors and broken links; Pete emphasized the importance of keeping an eye on content scrapers and the outbound links, being very careful with the anchor texts being given away and the kind of sites we are linking to.

  1. Optimisation is a continuous process

Another key lesson from Pete Handley’s talk was about how auditing process never ends: he summed up his talk by saying that after detecting and fixing all a site’s integrity issues, it is necessary to run a new audit and start the process all over again, emphasising how optimisation is a continuous process.

  1. Use structured sitemaps when migrating content

When you are moving content from one place on the site to a subdomain, the content loses its url. The key thing for SEO teams is to maintain the authority that would otherwise be lost.

Jez attended a technical talk from Kate Dreyer entitled ‘The Global Site Migration Monster’, about how the task of migration can be completed even on the large, complicated projects. Kate is head of SEO for EF Englishtown, which has websites for almost every country in world, and talked about her monster task of content migration.

Kate talked about how when she was brought in, the company was adding new country sites willy nilly, without any planning. After an audit, she decided not to mess with those countries with big traffic but to move others country content into a small subdirectory.

At the Internet Works we’ve done plenty of migrations with several clients. Not necessarily on a geographic basis, but on an organisational basis. We may come to site with various bits of content dotted without any logical hierarchy and we’ve worked out a plan and put pages into a more logical hierarchy. There are several technical SEO techniques that need to be done to ensure you don’t lose authority.

For Jez it was interesting and very reassuring to see how Kate had planned the process and that the technical aspects she’d done we had done as well. Nice to get encouragement that we do know what we’re doing!

Jez said it taught him about something he hasn’t been so hot on: the importance of sitemaps in content migrations. Kate’s team use sitemaps to tell Google where all the info is located. They did it in much more structured manner than we have in the past. We have previously dumped all urls on google and let them work it out and then fixed any holes that appeared. Kate had ten or so sitemaps, with different maps for each product.

It’s difficult to tell if her way had any advantage, but it would be easier for her to tell if she’d missed anything.

  1. How to earn links by ‘ignoring SEO’

Malcolm Coles [@malcolmcoles] from the Daily Mirror gave us some insights into the creative process of developing engaging headlines and viral content. His team is behind infographics, interactive quizzes, memes and articles we have seen being shared all over social media, like  the memorable “how much does the Daily Mail hate you” and an interactive data graph showing how much Wayne Rooney is getting paid while you are reading an article.

He emphasized the role and importance of social media as a window to share and promote content. He may say this is ‘ignoring SEO’ but from lesson 5 above, we know that as engagement is so important, this is highly potent SEO.

For Malcolm, the formula to get a successful headline is making it interesting and mysterious, sometimes cheeky and rude but not as a general rule. For him, content that goes viral isn’t necessarily edgy, but visually interesting, interactive and responsive, as for him viral content is mostly shared on social networks, mostly Facebook and most people access Facebook from their mobile devices, so this content needs to adapt to different screen configurations and display properly in different devices, otherwise people won’t share it.

Brighton SEO april 2014 - Malcolm Coles

He also made an important point about the creativity used on headlines, he mentioned some of the secrets behind the success of websites like Buzzfeed was that content creators are asked to come up with at least 25 different headlines for the same article. Some of the headlines are A/B tested which is another important element to sample the audience’s taste.

 

  1. The importance of keyword placement in metadata

We were very interested in the talk from Adrian Durow from ConversionArium (@adriandurow) – focus on conversion optimisation. He’s been working with Solent University on eye-tracking studies of online search results. These are proper tests in proper lab conditions, measuring where eyeballs go when a person looks a set of search results.

Two things Adrian shared were about whether it makes a difference if your keyword is at beginning or end of your metadata. Does it get more eyeballs at start or end? The hypothesis was proved that placing keywords at the beginning gets more eyeballs.

Another titbit was about strings of keywords. Does it matter if keywords are grouped together or strung out within a sentence? The conclusion was that keywords being strung out doesn’t matter. So you don’t need to put keywords together in a string or clump.

  1. Sometimes a jazzy domain name is best

Then, Adrian shared test results about how much influence a website’s URL had on the number of clicks it go. The hypothesis was: that people look at the domain before they click on a search result.

For some people domain not of any importance at all but some it’s very important. A memorable domain will definitely increase click-through rates.

When people look for generic things like fridge-freezer.com, turkishholidays.com the domain didn’t make much difference, but when had site was called Zazzle.com in the customised tshirts market or sexyturkey.com there was no doubt that eyeball tracks it more and encourages more clicks.

So, a memorable domain name is really important. Something different can help you stand out.

  1. There’s some cool shit on WordPress to make content ‘shareworthy’

There was indeed some cool shit in a self-explanatory talk from Patrick Hathaway (@HathawayP) – although it still left our hard-to-please Jez disappointed as he wanted more cool shit than was actually delivered.

These included themes that allow you to recreate the NY Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Snowfall’ content presentation style.

The next one’s the rather stunning ‘BigVideo.js’ plugin, which allows you to fairly easily have a video as a full-screen background on your website. I’d really recommend taking a look – it’s very impressive. (as the creators of this technology say themselves: you can play silent ambient background video (or series of videos), or use the plugin as a player to show video playlist. can also show big background images, which is nice to have for showing big background images for devices that don’t have autoplay for ambient video.)

These two examples are not exactly traditional SEO, more design, but they are indeed ‘cool shit’ and will therefore help you create ‘shareworthy’ content.

  1. Easy automation is possible

Patrick also recommended using two automation plugins IFTTT and Zapier. They do stuff like joining up your newsletter to orders so can personalise newsletters to users who ordered certain products previously.

So in love is Patrick’s team with these tools that, in tribute, they have made a grungy little video to explain how it works.

  1. There are massive social media you never even knew existed

Everyone knows Facebook and Twitter (and some people are starting to hear about this Google+ thing) – but Gemma Birch of WebCertain (@GemmaBirch) talked about other social networks around world that SEOs should know.

The main message perhaps was to modify your content for the audience. Which is true between all social media. She advised lurking a bit and find out what people say and what people talk about how they use it etc, before dipping in your toe.

In Asia, China has its own versions of Twitter called Weibo and Youtube called Youku. But for Weibo the main problem with these Chinese sites is for most SEO agencies is that you just cannot just go and register. In order to participate you have to have an office in China. No office, no corporate account.

In Latin America there are plenty of people on liking and tweeting but also there is some regional variation, with Orkut (owned by Google) very popular and in quite a lot of South American countries like Columbia, Peru, Argentina Ask.fm is really popular (including Sandra’s niece!).

  1. Beer is better than SEO

Best lesson from the pub afterwards was that beer is better than SEO. But as there was lots of SEO chat too, maybe it’s true that beer and SEO can be a great combination – but preferably only in the pub.

But for the teetotalers, all the slides for the conference are available online.

Written by

TIW's head of content. He writes things, mostly content for clients but also TIW blogs. Client content ranges from bespoke web copywriting to business and sports journalism for the likes of ITV, Digital Look, Reuters and the Olympic News Agency.

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