Last week Ben Barker and myself attended Manchester’s SAScon, the annual two-day conference for search, analytics and social media. And while we both had a lot of fun, we were really there to learn a thing or two. And learn we did! Here are the key takeaways from a whole host of talks from both days

Bloggers vs SEOs vs PRs - FIGHT! Judith Lewis, deCabbit Consultancy

Disclaimer: Judith asked that the audience didn’t blog about some of her practices, so I’ve honoured this request and only included the more general advice she gave (which is still useful, mind).

  • Bloggers are more “savvy” than ever, but more nervous too, especially about getting penalised for giving out too many links
  • Refer them to Google’s Guidelines for “Link Schemes”, the ASA, and CAP guidelines so that they are in possession of the facts
  • Bloggers will share details of PRs, SEOs who have used bad tactics in forums, in Facebook groups etc.
  • But they will also share the details of those who have done it right - Judith used the example of Eurostar who had given a blogger a brief for several articles, presented feedback, shared the final articles on their own channels, as well as payment in travel/hotel stays
  • Invest in blogger relationships rather than just paying for a link
  • SEO is essentially online marketing with PR, so learn from good PR tactics
  • If you’ve got a small budget, be honest and promise to pay when you get bigger clients as well as sharing on your own channels to improve their traffic
  • Check that your bloggers haven’t no-followed the links by using Screaming Frog

Social Media Strategy in Action - Ian Pollard, Autotrader

  • Planning cannot be emphasised enough - use a 10-step plan and follow through, especially if you want to run a successful SM campaign
  • Do a social mini-audit first - look at FB, Twitter, Google + and other relevant channels
  • Take screengrabs of everything so you can refer back to it
  • Aim to have consistency over the accounts - logo, colours, cover photos, tone of voice etc.
  • Work out what your social objectives are - do you want more likes, more followers, to drive sales, promote brand awareness, change brand reputation (or all of the above!)
  • Show a human side to the business
  • Build a future potential customer base by engaging with younger SM users
  • Educate management about the importance of SM - you need to give them a buy-in or the campaign will falter, especially if it needs to be rolled out across a company with loads of branches/locations

Performance-Led Social Content - Katy Howell, Immediate Future

  • We need to stop banging on about engagement, virality, targeting young people and get more serious about social content and analyse the data
  • Social Media equals money - Jimmy Choo attributed a 33% increase in sneaker sales to Twitter activity
  • Look at a SM as an “assisted purchase” - it’ll give your customers that extra nudge they need
  • Plan, use spreadsheets to their maximum potential, and make sure you know what your social content’s purpose is
  • Find the sweet spot between what you want to sell and what your potential customers are talking about - find RELEVANCE
  • Work out how to integrate/span different communities by going for “context not content”
  • Have a 6-month plan and a weekly SM schedule
  • Use visuals in LinkedIn - not enough people are doing it and it increases CTR significantly
  • Take a look at the VCCP case studies


Competitive Intelligence Strategy Using “spying” Tools - Rishi Lakhani for SEMrush

This was effectively a promo talk for SEMrush but I’ll keep it as general as possible

  • Use the same four-five tools, including SEMrush, every day to drill through data
  • Google Trends, Simply Measured, Copernic Tracker
  • People aren’t using these tools to their maximum capacity and you can learn almost everything you need from them to stay competitive
  • Metrics are vanity; Rankings are sanity
  • Use to compare past versions of pages - to gain an insight into where your competitors have made changes that worked
  • Look at historic backlinks using Majestic SEO
  • Use Linkrisk to find links you can leverage or to get a better insight into your competitors’ linkbuilding strategies
  • Look at lost/gained keywords
  • “Spy” on your competitors by signing up to their newsletters, affiliates programmes, monitoring press releases, liking their FB page and following them on Twitter
  • Use the + trick - add a plus sign to a link to see key data about that link
  • put staging. in front of a URL to see whether you can see changes on a site before they are implemented


Pay to Play: Are Paid Search and Social Destroying Organic - James Lowery, Compeller; Phil Mackechnie; Travel Supermarket; Neil Yeomans, Lakestar McCann

  • Google is trying to squeeze more and more money out of users
  • And paid search has a clear, trackable ROI
  • Google’s updates and penalties that are mainly aimed at bad SEO/content marketing practices have made companies skeptical about organic search
  • SEO practices are more risky than ever because Google can make changes and blow everything out of the water
  • Facebook is similar - your reach has been narrowed dramatically (5-15% of people who’ve liked your page) unless you pay to promote posts
  • On mobile, we’re now seeing only one organic search result above the fold (if we’re lucky) and the rest paid
  • The battle is boiling down to screen real-estate
  • And it’s getting harder for SMEs to get any visibility
  • Perhaps we need to accept we have to pay?
  • Yes, to a certain extent, but the basic on-site optimisations are still very important to get right
  • Retailers can’t escape paying - Amazon, eBay, Google Shopping

As an aside, I think Google have played the best “long-con” in history. They’ve created a captive, impotent (for now) audience of billions; they’ve dominated the search world so that the vast majority of traffic to your business comes from their search engine; they’re making organic search more and more closed-off; they’ve cracked down on black hat SEO practices; and once they monetise everything, whether it’s Google Analytics, Adwords, or Shopping, they’ve backed us into a corner where we have to pay, or sit back and watch our rankings and visibility decline.  

SEO Penalty Shoot Out - Recipe for Success - Paul Madden, LinkRisk; Tim Grice, Branded3; Pete Handley, MediaFlow

  • Always get links removed where possible when working to get a penalty revoked, disavow is a last resort ~ Paul
  • Branded3 have never manually removed links, instead they create an in depth and detailed disavow file once they have audited the links then submit this to Google ~ Tim
  • The average time for a penalty to be revoked after the work has been done is around 6 weeks ~ Tim
  • LinkRisk have analysed over 7k backlink profiles, the common issues with bad links is always the anchor text ~ Paul
  • The Media Flow uses a combination of disavowing and manually removing bad links ~ Pete
  • Always proactively disavow bad links as you find them even if they are not causing issues with manual actions or algorithms (penguin)
  • Even if a bad link from a 404 page is pointing to your site you need to ensure you still disavow it as the page could become live again at some point or might only be temporarily not found
  • Negative SEO does exist but most “reported” cases are simply from tactics the site owners themselves have employed and mostly forgotten about
  • when auditing links ensure you use EVERY link tool you can get your hands on as they all give slightly varying data
  • The agreed common characteristics of bad links are; anchor text, sitewide and links from article marketing efforts

This was a really interesting panel because Paul and Tim have opposite views and processes when it comes to what needs to be done to get a penalty revoked but they both get the same end result (penalties lifted). Should we be simply disavowing links or should we still be spending time manually contacting sites to get as many links removed before we resort to the disavow file? personally our views are inline with Paul’s.

Attribution - Success Has Many Fathers, But Failure is an Orphan - Russell McAthy, Blue Glass; Darren Herbert, Latitude

  • 54% of online businesses work with an attribution model
  • 89% of websites that used them claimed it had a positive impact on their business
  • 29% of businesses that used attribution models said it had a major impact on their business
  • Main barriers to success are a lack of disparate tools, resource issues and internal politics
  • Last Click is still the most common attribution model overall
  • First click attribution is the second most common attribution model
  • Google analytics and double click are free tools that all sites should be using as a minimum
  • Double click tracks impressions whereas Google Analytics does not
  • ensure if you do offline or alternative advertising that you use specific shortened URLs to track those channels
  • The best attribution models for your business are dependant on how your business operates it is all individual, there isn’t a one size fits all model
  • Do NOT customise attribution models unless you have done in depth research around which channels would work best for your business.
  • Ensure that you use content grouping in Google Analytics so that you can group your content into a logical structure that reflects how you think about your site

This was my favourite talk of the day, Russell and Darren really went into depth about why and how we should be using attribution models.The main point from this talk is that most of us are still using last click attribution as our models when infact we should be researching which one would suit each business the best.

You are What you Wear - Is There A Future in Wearable Media? - Martin Bryant, TNW; Sabine Douglas, Apadmi; Paul Gailey, Droiders

  • A lot of people perceive wearable media a “gimmick” rather than it being a functional accessory
  • Wearable media such as smart watches for example, have real world usage such as reading emails, texts etc
  • Police in London are now using wearable cameras that record footage live and that gets uploaded to a cloud server to be stored as evidence (
  • Wearable media is nothing new, police dogs have been wearing cameras for a long time before this became “mainstream”
  • The UK as a whole are more uneducated when it comes to wearable technologies
  • Our acceptance of technology is generally behind compared to what we are actually capable of creating
  • There is a fine line between wearable tech marketing products that you may be interested in and simply being “creepy”
  • There are some privacy issues with wearable media, take the smartwatch for example; if you have push notifications enabled then people around may be able to read texts, email snippets
  • Companies are now realising that to get wearable media mainstream they need to make it “fashionable” in the future we can expect to see jewellery inspired wearable media.

This was an interesting talk about the future of wearable media, the main points to take away form this is that wearable tech is not a fad, it is here to stay and will keep improving and advancing. We need to be aware of the implications of wearable tech, in particular the complications it may cause when it comes to privacy - it will be interesting to see how this unfolds!

13 Things That Online Dating Taught Me About Smashing Social Media KPIs - Laura Thomas, Return On Digital

  • You should be measuring links, shares & overall social reach
  • Make sure you are measuring referral traffic from social media channels
  • Make sure you are checking and split testing your content
  • Monitor your post frequency, asses whether or not you are posting too often/not enough
  • Be honest with your clients about what you are doing with their social accounts
  • Its important to understand that an idea that might work on one platform like Facebook, may not necessarily work on Twitter
  • You need to give people reasons to talk to you, even if they like your page/retweet you they probably won't engage fully with you
  • Find the best keywords that convert for your audience, this is where split testing content comes in to play
  • Update or create a proactive engagement list for your social accounts

This was easily the most entertaining talk of the conference, it was full of humour and delivered really well, it was also full of useful information about how we should be managing our clients expectations and what we should be doing with our content on social media. My biggest takeaway here was that you need to split test your content and make sure you have differing ideas for the various social platforms.