Wednesday was Manchester’s first SEO, Analytics and Social Media Conference (SASCon), we went along to see the speakers and catch up with SEO’s and Social experts in Manchester.
Manchester has a strong Digital community and with many top SEO agencies either being based in Manchester or have branches in Manchester there are a lot of talented people in this area. So why is it we all have to travel down to London for Search conferences? Well we don’t any more as Manchester Digital, SEMPO, PushON and other Industry leaders have organised SASCon and if Wednesdays event is anything to go by will become an annual event the southerners will have to travel up to go to – or miss out!
It was a last minute decision for SEO Creative to join other Manchester SEO‘s and go to SASCon as we are very busy at the moment, but we saw the line up of panelists and thought it was definitely not to be missed!
SASCon was held at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and this was a great venue for the first event, the only problem was the lack of WiFi as my iPhone died as I was updating on the conference using the #SASCon for Twitter.
The Keynote was delivered by Bruce Daisley from YouTube, which although had subtle undrtones of a sales pitch, was also very interesting and well delivered with interesting 3rd party statistics and a few funny videos. His speech was mostly about the growth of Video on the internet, which unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you will already be aware of. It was interesting to see the statistics such as you are 50% more likely to have your YouTube content found in blended results (through good Video Optimisation) than you are to be found in the normal organic SERP’s. SEO Creative have encouraged our clients to use Video for some time now so it was good to hear that Video online is 1.5 times more effective in delivering an advertisment or marketing message than TV. That makes sense, as a Television advert is an intrusion into your Television viewing, however you log onto You Tube especially to see a Video so I’m probably more surprised that figure isn’t higher. Universal Search is a really good way of attracting audiences, especially with Local and Video so this is definitely an area we will be focusing on more in the future.
My favourite panel of the day was the Black Hat/White Hat panel they discussed whether there was actually such a thing as White Hat SEO anymore. With Ralph Tegtmeier, Jon Myers, Tom Critchlow and Bas Van Den Beld this was not to be missed! There were times when I felt I was at an alcoholics annonymous meeting but no one would admit they were an alcoholic; as speakers emphasized they were not talking literally as they would never use Black hat SEO for their clients… but… if you wanted to do black hat SEO you could do this. That is apart from Ralph Tegtmeier, who was charismatic throughout the conference and probably the hero of many panels. David Prior from Social Magnet even Tweeted “Black Hat, White Hat, Grey Beard” which summed it up quite nicely. Many points were covered in this session, including Big Brands getting penalised by Google for selling and buying links so obviously, and how common it is to get PR dropped (even though this still makes no difference to the rankings). In conclusion it seems the best thing you can do is make sure you look natural and if you can fake it – well that is great. Although Ralph Tegmeier did point out that the black hat lifestyle isn’t for everyone and if you value your health perhaps it isn’t the best idea to have the constant stress of taking on Google for fear of getting caught. This was one of my favourite panels and was dissapointed it wasn’t longer.
Will McInnes, Judith Lewis, Paul Fabretti, Rishil Lakhani, Massimo Burgio and Philip Buxton discussed who was best placed to exploit social media. This was an interesting discussion as everyone agreed if the client can do the social media themselves this is a much better opportunity for them and would be more successful – as long as they do it well. The problem comes from companies who don’t have the knowledge in social media to use it properly. They also discussed good and bad campaigns using elections as an example, where Barack Obama used Social Media successfully it seems most of the British candidates have seen the harsher side of social media where it has been turned against them. When discussing this, the panel discussed how social media is controlled by the masses; so if you have a bad product and people know that, you can put it out there that you are good but the masses will revolt and tell you and everyone else it is bad. Social media means that corporate businesses cannot just put their heads in the sand and ignore the end user but have to change the way they do business or be exposed to the power of millions of bloggers, facebook sharers, Tweeters etc. The panel agreed that social media had to be measurable or not at all and you shouldn’t just adopt the attitude that everyone is doing it so why don’t we but look at the appropriateness for your business model and where the conversations are taking place.
The low point for me was the PPC Innovation Panel as I felt like it was a hard sell from the panelists combined with some mutual grooming. I attended this knowing my personal skills lie in SEO, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn something new but it was very basic and the presentations were more about what software they have developed that you can use to report PPC, rather than insights into strategy ot trends. Very dissapointing, but this was the only part of the conference I didn’t enjoy as much.
I was torn between the Advanced Linkbuilding and making Corporate Marketing and Social Media Fit, after the toss of a coin I went with Advanced Link Building, although from the reviews it seems both of these were very good. I enjoyed the link building session with Pete Young, Kristjan Mar Hauksson, Richard Baxter, Neil Walker, Ralph Tegtmeier and Joost de Valk. All but Ralph Tegtmeier gave presentations on the value of links and some different techniques, however I think most of the information was already known by most of the SEO’s in the room. The best advice was really to mix your links up to make them as natural as possible, Google knows when a link is no followed so having just followed PR5 links to your websites looks somewhat suspicious so be clever. Joost introduced a new idea of building links using the cross domain cannonical tag but as this was released on Twitter and live blogs within minutes I doubt this will work for long.
The final talk started off slow with some difficult questions from Bill Staples leaving the likes of Andrew Barke (Google) and
Jim Briggen (ISpy) stumped, but they sooned warmed up discussing the evolution of search and how Mobile search is not quite there yet but maybe in 2011 3G phones will take over. On this note, smart phone applications that cut out search engines was mentioned and I would have been interested to hear more on this and how the search engines planned to adapt to this. With no presence from Bing or Yahoo these were barely mentioned, and Andrew Barke used Google’s stock answer that they know their market share is a click away for many people, however I didn’t see any sign of real fear or worry from him at the prospect of Bing overtaking, and unless Bing can offer somehing Google doesn’t I would have to agree with that.
At the very end, when many shot off to enjoy the free bar upstairs, Massimo Burgio from SEMPO shared recent research into social media use and attitudes. This was some really valuable information, although some of the statistics caused controversy as they were too subjective to the user and the questions seemed to be geared more to the larger social media sites in stead of taking into consideration the blurring lines between social sites, user generated content and blogging. It made me question what fits under that social media banner and if there is enough education on this to the people filling out the survey. However this is really interesting stuff and I am desperately trying to get hold of the results for a closer look.
At the end of the day it was a big success, some of the points were a bit basic for industry people but there was a lot less selling than there is at other conferences I have been too such as Ad:Tech. I think it took into account there were businesses as well as SEO and Social people to give a conference that wasn’t too basic but wouldn’t go over anyones heads’. My main complain is it was too short I wanted more from the panels and I enjoyed the discussions and audience questions as felt this generated much more useful opinions than the presentations. However rumours have it that next year it will a 2 day event and the second day will be a tighter circle of people, hopefully allowing a higher level of conversation.
All in all, kudos has to go out to MIDAS, PushOn, Digital Manchester, Northern Net, SEMPO, The Chartered Institute of Marketing, Search Ignite, MMU MsC in Digital Marketing and Little Orchard. I am glad Manchester has SASCon as a SEO, Analytics and Social Media event, with the introduction of Media City and both Salford University and Manchester Met looking at courses and acccreditations in SEO and Social Media we should expect the Manchester Digital community to grow and get even better.