As someone who has never been to a SAScon event, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at The Comedy Store at Manchester’s Deansgate Locks for SAScon Beta 2014; but I certainly came away feeling as though I’d learned a thing or two about a number of search, social and analytical aspects of this industry.

For anyone who hasn’t been to a main SAScon event, they take place in Manchester over three days around May and June each year and has been running for six years now, with the aim to “showcase innovative, cutting edge practice and thinking in the digital market” according to the site.

The Beta version of the main conference aims to make the event “accessible to all who wish to attend” and “to create a wholly immersive experience unlike any other conference currently in the industry,” and I can honestly say that it ticked all of those boxes from the very first keynote speech until the end of the day.

While I couldn’t be in both rooms at all times, I did my best to scribble down some notes from those I could attend (to those which I missed out on, please don’t take it personally!!) Rather than recapping the whole presentations, I thought it would be best to summarise the event with five key takeaways, not from the event as a whole - there were far too many - but from those speakers who I, like many in the audience, sat listening to trying to absorb as much information as possible.

The event started out with a welcome from Kristal Ireland, head of social at twentysix in Leeds, and a word from Darren of DeepCrawl, one of the event sponsors, who then handed over to the first keynote speaker of the day:

Jeff Coghlan of Matmi, a mobile, social, gaming and digital production agency from Macclesfield here in the North West, whose talk was titled “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should.”

  • The first major point was something we should all remember - technology should be fun. We take ourselves too seriously sometimes and we need technology to lighten things up
  • However, just because we have the ability to create something doesn’t mean we should - there is a lot of pointless technology on the market today which we either waste our money on, or just leave on the shelves
  • We then saw a flashback to the early days of the web, including Apple’s first website, and the development of banner ads - or more importantly, the lack of. Jeff revealed a statistic that showed “we are more likely to survive a plane crash than you are to click on a banner ad”
  • You shouldn’t take yourself too seriously, especially as a creative
  • Go platform neutral. Don’t go in looking to create something for one platform, when people are likely to try and access it on multiple formats, you risk alienating part of your audience

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffCoghlan


Next up for me was Richard Falconer, Head of Search at Digitas LBI with his presentation titled “Optimise for the Future, Not Just for Today.”

  • Richard’s first point was that we should all “think like a search engine, not about how to trick one”
  • You should use the words that matter most to customers in links, titles and body content to inform and inspire them to take action. The text used in titles should make it easy to understand the topic of the page or article quickly, ideally in the first few words
  • Don’t overlook demographic information when performing keyword research. Monitoring the terms being searched for by men and women separately can open up new opportunities to drive your content strategy
  • Unless you set KPI targets, you can’t tell if something is working or faltering. You should also judge a campaign by how it compares to the business objectives - NOT by changes in rankings or the number of links you can acquire.
  • Domain Authority and similar metrics aren’t as valuable as many believe and we should look at the publishers we build relationships with in terms of their reach

Follow Richard on Twitter @rich_falconer


Following on from Richard’s presentation was a really interesting look at “SGO: Social Good Optimisation” by Matt Haworth of Reason Digital, another Manchester-based agency specialising in websites and digital campaigns for charities and public sector organisations.

  • The main thing I enjoyed from this presentation was it focussed on “measuring what matters in life, not just analytical data, as Morrissey once sang” when it comes to gauging success
  • You should set a target, and measure it over a long period of time to get the maximum impact for your clients, but what you measure can affect both behaviour and the outcome of the campaign, such as purchases, clicks or downloads
  • Matt talked through a number of campaigns that Reason Digital have worked on in the community, such as public safety apps, which enable people to share information regarding incidents in the wider world and the effectiveness of these apps is just as important as the number of downloads
  • Social good optimisation is as important as search engine optimisation, just in a different way
  • “We have the technologies to help communities”

You can follow Matt on Twitter @acrim


After a quick coffee break it was over to Kev Strong, Head of Search at Mediaworks in Newcastle who spoke about “Online Reputation Management for Search.”

  • Vanity searches are no longer egotistical, they’re big business. “If you had graffiti on a wall, you’d clear it off as soon as possible. It should be the same online”
  • Google doesn’t care about positive or negative researches relating to people or brands, they just focus on providing the best results for users making online reputation management so important
  • Negative comments and articles from people with some knowledge of SEO can massively affect brands and individuals, just look at the HMV example on Twitter relating to the staff dismissals
  • A positive brand culture can filter down from the top to the bottom. CEOs, MDs and management should ensure that all corporate posts online are positive
  • You can’t plan for the unexpected. Look at the Gregg’s logo error on Google for a prime example. Sometimes it can be dealt with quickly and relatively easily, but in other instances it can take much longer to resolve or remove from SERPs - and also AutoSuggest

Kev’s on Twitter @KevStrong


The final talk before lunch was given by Laura Thomas, Head of Social at Return On Digital, who gave a GIF-fuelled talk on “How to Write and Measure Converting Content.”

  • Don’t create content and then look for the audience. Investigate what they’re reading and sharing - and why. Find the happy medium between what you want to give them, and what they want
  • Define what a conversion is for your campaign and what your goals are, then monitor them using Insights and Analytics to see what is working and what needs to be amended
  • Taking your data, you can then experiment with posting your content shortly before peak activity
  • Try something new - evolve and adapt. One example used was the same post on Twitter, one featuring a GIF and one without. The post with the link performed far better
  • Keep your posts short and clickable, giving them what they want to see and what you want them to do

You can follow Laura on Twitter @_eltee


After lunch we had the second keynote presentation from James Murray, Search Advertising Lead of Microsoft UK who gave a talk on “Unlocking the Potential of Search” and also revealed a major contender to Apple’s Siri which definitely impressed the whole audience.

  • Search data can unveil incredible data relating to behaviour and gives us the ability to predict the future through the results. For example, Bing correctly predicted 15 out of the 16 FIFA World Cup knockout round results, which is more than Opta. (The one incorrect game was the 3rd/4th place play-off “which nobody cared about anyway”)
  • “We’re stifling what is possible by a lack of imagination... Search engines are still just a glorified version of the Yellow Pages”
  • Three things guide us in search: we want it to be personalised, intuitive and to help us to be more productive
  • Content is important, but context is vital. Emotional, environmental, social and external (trends) contexts affect our decisions; like whether to go to the nearest or our favourite coffee shop
  • Artificial intelligence is becoming more human, giving us the information we want without us having to search for it. Microsoft and Bing have created Cortana for Windows Phone - a rival for Apple’s Siri and Google Now

James is on Twitter at @james3murray


It was then over to Rakhi Sinha from Eventbrite who gave a presentation on 5 Event Marketing Upgrades.

  • Modernise email marketing. Have a call-to-action, know your audience accordingly, offer them value, be specific, set goals and include images
  • Treasure the data you have access to and use it wisely
  • Maximise your event content. A picture doesn’t just say 1,000 words - it improves click-throughs by 42%
  • Build a community of partners
  • Create a consistent and unmistakable brand identity and presence

Follow Rakhi on Twitter at @Rakhi_Sinha


Kristal Ireland then returned to the stage and gave a visual presentation on “The Internet of Things.”


  • Focus on the data captured, processed and communicated; often in real-time
  • We’re presented with a series of questions - “Is the Internet of Things making our lives better?” “Could we live without these ‘smart’ items?” and “are health apps like the FitBit actually helping?”
  • When data is collected using smart devices, what does it mean for us? There is the slippery-slope argument over where you draw the line on what is captured
  • Driverless cars are an example of the Internet of Things being used for good purposes - helping blind and disabled people to get around for instance; but will it make us lazy?
  • “Why does my fridge need Twitter?” - A VERY VALID QUESTION!


Kristal is on twitter at @kristalsmile


After a final coffee break it was back to the presentations, and next up for me was Gisele Navarro, the Head of Outreach from NeoMam Studios, who gave a talk titled “72% of Internet Users Don’t Speak English - International Outreach.”

  • You’ve won 50% of the outreach battle already if you’ve written and placed an article in English, but there are much greater opportunities
  • Managers may put up resistance to the idea of international outreach for various reasons, but if you can get the go-ahead you need to be prepared to make mistakes - and to learn from them, before you get it right
  • The first problem with international outreach is often in the translation of the copy. Hiring an interpreter to read through your content will help to overcome any errors or problems with ‘awkward’ copy. The next issue relates to the tone and it becoming robotic in your approach to outreach, especially if you outsource it. Connect person-to-person. Finally, a generic strategy won’t work. You should ensure that it is specific to the sites or journalists you’re approaching, and that you take your time to do your research
  • A problem you may encounter from overseas journalists and bloggers is “what’s in it for me?” They may be behind the times with their strategies, but in the case of an infographic you could either offer a scaled down version with a call-to-action to see more; or offer them your research, information about the design and the marketing objectives to be clear and upfront with them. Human interaction helps to create long-term relationships
  • There are four main takeaways - ( 1 ) outreach to foreign journalists and editors in English; ( 2 ) be confident with what you have to offer; ( 3 ) start with your best English content; and ( 4 ) be flexible with your outreach. If you don’t do it, someone else will

You can follow Gisele on Twitter @ichbinGisele


My final presentation for the day was given by Karyn Fleeting, the Head of Content at MediaCom iLab, who spoke about “New Methods for Idea Generation.”

  • Ideation methods haven’t changed that much over the years, we still sit in team meetings scribbling down ideas
  • Draw upon any unusual assets you may have to help you come up with a great content idea that you may otherwise never think of
  • Keep meetings to the morning when you’re at your freshest, and with as few people as is necessary - normally five or six is plenty - and definitely no laptops, they provide distractions
  • MediaCom iLab use four models for idea generation: (1 ) the sieve, getting as many ideas as possible and filtering down to the best one; ( 2 ) the flow, lose yourself in what you’re doing, getting in “the zone”; ( 3 ) the sonnet, keep a structure to allow productivity and creativity to shine; and ( 4 ) the survivorship bias, don’t just analyse what has survived or worked well, take a look at what didn’t work or what you didn’t select previously and adapt it until it works
  • Use reverse engineering, putting the content ideas last on your list, establishing the objectives, URLs and budget beforehand to save time; helping you to understand the ideas you can create based on those parameters

You can follow Karyn on Twitter @KarynFleeting


Barry Adams, who I didn’t manage to see, gave a presentation which received rave reviews on Twitter and around the venue, titled “Silicon Prison: How Technology is Building a Sanitised Society”, and the slides are available here. There was also a presentation by Jim Haysom of Jim Haysom Consulting.

There were other talks given by Lexi Mills of Dynamo PR, Matt Hunt of Apadmi, Dom Hodgson from LinkRisk, and if (or when) the slides become available I’ll be updating this post to share those with you.

The final section of the day was a panel debate on the invasive nature of personal data gathering for marketing, government and alien conquest; featuring Tom Cheesewright, Julian Tait and Barry Adams, before drinks kindly provided by The Candidate and some live comedy.

For anyone thinking about going to events like this one, you should definitely dip your toe into the water with Beta, or smaller spin-off conferences like this one. Sometimes the three-day events are too expensive or fall at the wrong time to attend, but credit to the organisers for putting on a great one-day event, and to The Comedy Store Manchester for hosting.

Maybe see you all at SAScon 2015!