While the rest of Manchester were enjoying the two days of summer; the Search, Analytics and Social media lovers among us were shut away inside Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School learning all about the state of the industry from some of the best in the business at SAScon 2015.

This was my first time at a ‘main’ SAScon, having attended the Beta event in December last year, and it was great to have the opportunity to meet some of the people I had only previously engaged with over social media or having read blog posts online.

It goes without saying that there were plenty of insightful presentations and panel discussions which brought plenty of engagement from those sat inside the lecture theatres.

Unfortunately, despite the developments in technology like wearables which were commented on frequently across the two days, it’s not yet possible to transport myself into all three rooms at once so choosing which talks to attend was difficult (my apologies to those reading this review whose presentations I didn’t attend - it’s not personal!)

For those whose talks I did get to, it was certainly worthwhile and I would suggest that anyone who thought about going this year and then thought “maybe next time”, gets themselves on the list next year - you learn shedloads from some of the best in the business. I did my best to scribble down everything I could so I’ll do my best to do the talks justice in bullet point form.

This year’s event kicked off with Aleyda Solis, founder of Orainti, jetting in to talk to a packed lecture theatre about how SMBs can win in competitive SEO sectors.


  • Authority plays a vital role in rankings, but it isn’t just about rankings anymore. Results pages (SERPs) have evolved from a list of results to a page full of snippets, apps, maps, knowledge graph and now multidevice results
  • The big players might have advantages over small rivals, but the smaller companies can leverage the challenges faced by larger businesses
  • Larger companies might have the authority and resources, but smaller businesses are often faster, more flexible and more targeted meaning they can capitalise. If you have lower authority, be strategic: less competition + more visibility. Localise your presence, be lean and be fast
  • Identify the SEO competition and visibility opportunities in your industry; and compare your domains to identify the unique and common keywords. Check for additional permutations and identify the devices used. Verify the volume, competition and trend and find out which SERP can earn more visibility along with the content type to achieve that
  • Use tools such as Buzzsumo to identify the most popular local or industry-related content and influencers; and LinkRisk to get data from sites to outreach

Next for me was a discussion on the industry according to experts Paul Frampton, CEO of Havas Media and Tom Cull, MD of iProspect Manchester. The pair were asked a series of questions about the history of the industry, where it is now, where it’s going and the biggest challenges they’re faced with.

  • Paul: “One of the biggest challenges is finding T-shaped talent and expertise”, the kind of people who aren’t just specialists in one area, but skilled in areas that will benefit the business as a whole
  • Tom: “Consumers, clients and customers want instant gratification, and more complex user behaviour makes our task more complex”
  • Paul: “We need to be more focussed on solutions” rather than just strategies
  • Tom: “Data can be used to inform content, the data obtained from that content can then be used to inform the next piece and so on”
  • Paul: “We have the tools to deliver more and better content and experiences, but we’re failing. It’s about bringing value back to people”
  • Tom: “If you make a brand useful with user engagement then there is still life in SEO”
  • Paul: “Paid social will become more data driven, helping us to do much more with the platforms than many of us already do”
  • Paul: “Data is the lifeblood of digital marketing. Without it we compromise the whole user experience”

After after a quick coffee, there was a talk on paid search, making the move from keywords to audience, given by Wes Emmison, PPC group head at MediaCom and Matt Wright, the Director of Paid Media at iProspect Manchester.


  • Wes: Audience targeting is based on the information we have about users, that is interpreted to help us to deliver the right message at the right time
  • As user behaviour continues to vary across more devices, we can gather more information to ultimately boost our return on investment (ROI)
  • Audience targeting has evolved over time, giving us more options than ever before. Long-standing methods include time of day and the day of the week, the location of a user and the device they’re using. The new methods include specific demographic (age and gender) targeting, along with RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads)
  • Considerations for an effective strategy: device, age, gender, interests, motivation to buy, when are they active
  • User behaviour varies day to day, hour to hour
  • Location data can highlight a business’ strengths and weaknesses in a particular sector
  • Keywords are not dead. PPC (pay per click) has evolved and we must adapt, increasing our efficiency
  • Matt: Consumer behaviour is driving rapid change. Technology and convergence has put the consumers in control
  • Use the data that is available to feed into the audience and to power the strategy
  • Searches without data are ambiguous. Data gives it that clarity
  • Combine data sets to target activity - audience, product, messaging, exposure
  • There is no easy path to the next level, but you can prepare yourselves to help you to get there. All data is useful data

After lunch there was a keynote speech by Larry Kim, the founder of WordStream, on the future of PPC marketing right now, and where it’s going

  • Search CPCs (cost per click) keep dropping overall. However, overall paid search CPCs have reached an all-time high
  • There are fewer ad spots on mobile, which makes up 50% of searches in 2015 and is only likely to grow
  • Winning at paid search in 2015 means being more picky than ever before and targeting fewer, high quality, more expensive clicks rather than more, average quality, less expensive clicks
  • RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) gives you the opportunity to customize search ads specifically to people who recently visited your site. On average, RLSA doubles CTR (click-through rates), raises your quality score and cuts CPC in half
  • Your audience spends 95% of its time on the web reading and engaging with news pages, blogs, social networking sites, email etc.
  • Display ads have a much higher inventory, lower CPCs and convert well, providing decent ROI and scale
  • The evolution of display ad targeting options: identity (names and contact details), remarketing (people who visited the ‘buy’ section of the site), interests and market segments, keyword targeting, website targeting
  • Email targeting is coming to AdWords
  • Identity-based marketing opens up new advertising use cases and you can target specific influencers, increasing the chance of getting noticed
  • You need interesting content and influential people to pick up your content in order for it to go viral
  • Be a unicorn among a sea of donkeys - do something special to stand out, not just what everyone else is doing
  • Social platforms are killing off organic reach
  • Content remarketing is the future - amplify/promote your content to the right audience and you will dramatically increase your brand recall, generating sales and qualified leads. It combines all the assets of SEO, PPC, social media marketing and content marketing
  • How content remarketing works - produce content and share on social; selectively promote your top content on social media; build your remarketing audience by tagging visitors with a site cookie; apply behavioural and demographic filters on the audience; target the audience with display and social media ads; capture qualified leads or sales

My next talk was given by Paddy Moogan, the Co-Founder of Aira from Milton Keynes. This was one of the most popular talks I attended and there were plenty of insights to be gained on the future for marketers.


  • “Google doesn’t want to be the middle-man anymore, (not for free anyway!)” They will keep getting better at spam detection
  • It’s still all about search. If it isn’t about search, it’s certainly about you and user data
  • Our industry will change through artificial intelligence (AI)
  • AI is at the heart of the future of this industry. It is doing, and will continue to do two things for us as marketers: (1) filtering what we want to see. Content needs to get past these filters and we now need multiple traffic sources. Loyalty is the ultimate goal. (2) Predicting what we want to see. AI learns real signals from us and this will make spam much harder in the future
  • Mobile is not about mobile as a whole, it is about the context in which we use our mobile devices
  • Content discovery is now mobile first. It isn’t all about making a piece of viral content
  • 45% of all mobile searches help us to make decisions, meaning you need to communicate the message in the right context
  • The future is unpredictable and having a T-shaped marketer is good, but not the answer. You need to be able to combine creativity, strategy and technology
  • We need to get better at measurement, and to find out what our customer lifetime value (LTV) is so that we can build up a loyal audience
  • Create a paid and organic content promotion strategy as both are valuable
  • Content needs to be beautiful
  • Keep one eye on the future, and the other on the here and now, delivering what people want now, not just what they might want down the line
  • Knowing what makes a good idea is crucial. You can then build on these over and over
  • Design content for mobile first with more and more using their mobile devices over desktop

Our own Alex Moss gave a presentation on the various tools out there to help you to improve your internal productivity

  • All companies deal with ‘pollution’ or clutter.
  • The likes of Feedly allow you to organise your reading materials into one dashboard, making it easy for you to learn at your convenience
  • Recruit’em helps you to find and organise your leads, making it much easier than searching through social networks and Google for contact details, job roles etc
  • There are numerous tools within Google Labs that allow you to organise your emails without mistakes - especially Undo Send
  • Organise your inbox to help you to prioritise and filter your emails, and remember to reply later with further detail (the Remember the Milk platform is good here)
  • Streak is good for sending emails later (ideal when emailing someone on the other side of the world). Plus, you can see if and when the recipient has opened your email
  • Instant messaging is good for internal and external communication. Skype is great for conference and video calling plus non-cloud file transfers; while Slack is a great in-house platform and can be organised into groups (such as accounts, content or in-house banter)
  • Trello is a great tool for project management, allowing you to organise projects into individual boards - such as SEO, content, social, next month, etc (also available as a mobile app)
  • Wrike is a brilliant project and time management tool, allowing you to see how long you spend on individual and collaborative tasks, as well as statistical data on progress
  • LastPass is a really useful for managing passwords and sharing them with your colleagues
  • Buzzstream and LinkRisk are excellent outreach tools for organising and finding contacts

Teddie Cowell, the Director of SEO at MediaCom; James English, the Head of SEO at BBC Sport and Radek Kowalski from iProspect Manchester then joined up for a panel discussion about the ongoing battle between technical and content headed by Tecmark Director Rob Weatherhead.

  • Radek: The content being produced might be great and really effective, but with a few technical edits it could be even better
  • James: It’s a competitive space, meaning that you can’t get complacent even if you have the help of Domain Authority and a brand name
  • Radek: It’s a pipedream to think that everything will be ideal, there are always things that can be improved or that will need editing
  • Radek: For small sites, WordPress is the ideal platform as it does 80% of the technical work for you
  • Teddie: Look for consistency in the URLs, H1s and other technical aspects of the content or page you’re looking at
  • James: You should always start out small. If you want to scale later on, it’s essential that you have your house in order early on
  • Teddie: Content is anything that connects a brand to its audience, whether it’s an article, a radio advertisement or an image on the television
  • James: With breaking news it’s important to sometimes get a headline and a page out there so it can start ranking and being found. You can always edit the content as you get it or where more news comes in
  • Rob: In one word, which is more important, technical or content? Teddie: Technical. James: Technical. Radek: Technical

Day two began with another keynote speech, this time from Martin Macdonald, the Head of SEO at Orbitz Worldwide. Martin’s talk was on the evolution of SEO, and SEOs - and was a real hit with the audience (almost as big a hit as Alex’s entrance 10 minutes in!)


  • Predicting where we’re going requires an understanding of where we’ve come from
  • 2001-2007: the “spamming with impurity” years
  • 2008-2012: the “ok, you want to stop doing spam” years. This era was famous for the likes of BMW being penalised for their link building and made the news websites, showing that the mainstream press were aware of Google’s presence and influence, as well as the importance of rankings
  • 2013-today: the “stop punishing us” years, emphasised by the Interflora and Expedia penalties
  • We have moved from a time when Google was naive and would release one update each month, to a time when they are all-powerful and “hell-bent on domination.” You would have to be crazy to try anything blackhat these days. The context and ‘game’ we’re playing has completely changed
  • Rankings can’t exist without technical SEO, but they won’t be good enough with marketing
  • SEO will never die, it’s just being split in two - technical SEO and marketing
  • “SEO touches every department...branding, content, social media, SEO is involved in it all
  • By creating a sprawling giant, Google have raised a generation of powerful marketers
  • Specialise in one area of your industry, then learn how to do everything else!

Following on from Martin was Stacey MacNaught, Search Director at Tecmark, who delivered an expletive-filled guide to creating quality content on scale.

  • Content marketing, despite being an industry buzzword for the last few years, is not new. It’s been around for more than a hundred years with Michelin producing a 400-page piece of content reviewing restaurants. There are now more than 3 million indexed results for “Michelin guide”
  • The market is now becoming incredibly competitive, so teams have to produce high quality content to succeed
  • Quality is not one single thing, it is subjective and varies according to your own and the audience’s objectives
  • It doesn’t have to be pretty, provided that it gives the reader something new or a hook and speaks to them
  • There are five key steps to creating high quality content:
    • audience research. The people you’re trying to reach and what they like, want, etc
    • competitor research. Understanding what other businesses are producing well and badly
    • ideation. Generating creative ideas that can be the difference between success and failure
    • content production. Turning those ideas into a piece of content
    • content promotion. Getting that content in front of not only the web, but your target audience
  • When it comes to ideation, it’s a case of survival of the fittest. It needs to be something new, useful and importantly feasible. Score each section out of 10 and aim for a score of 20+ before going ahead on anything
  • Use polls and surveys to gather unique and original information
  • Turn your single piece of content into much more. Your survey could become a blog post, infographic, even an ebook
  • Always remember to think multi-screen, it’s not just about desktop anymore
  • Build it and they will come is rubbish. You need to put as much into content promotion as you do into content production

Yossi Erdman, the head of brand and social media from AO, delivered the final keynote of this year’s event, telling us all about how to make social media useful, measurable and fun at the same time

  • Social media allows brands to produce content quickly and in real-time. It also allows us to engage with customers for immediate feedback
  • It is a great platform to try new ideas, and because of the low budgets involved it requires much less approval to get ideas out there
  • Social media is an essential part of a brand mixture, with a combination of articles, videos and images helping us to sell products and services
  • Social media can impact externally (with customers) and internally (allowing us to show our culture and to run and learn about customer service)
  • Try to entertain your customers, not just to sell to them. Video on Facebook is taking over, with high reach, lots of views and high engagement
  • Getting customers to contribute content is a great way to build engagement and loyalty; and also provides ideas for new content to be built internally
  • Facebook activity has a big impact on brand searches and branded traffic. AO branded traffic grew by 154% over twelve months, with branded sales up 128% and repeated customers up 20%
  • You can use social media as part of your customer service. AO received comments on the drivers and deliveries and turned these into a fortnightly driver feedback book, which is delivered to the home of those mentioned so that partners etc can see how their partners are performing at work. Drivers now ask customers for feedback and performances have improved

The final presentation for me was a four-person panel discussing data driven digital and how we can interpret and use data to inform our content, social, PPC and SEO strategies. This was from Amnet Director Rob Smith, Ben Harper, the co-founder of Datify, digital media strategist at Amaze Paul O’Connor, and Ann Stanley, the co-founder and MD of Anicca Digital.

  • Rob started the presentation with a talk on leveraging first, second and third party data in online campaigns.
    • 3 steps in creating a strategy using first party data: identification of customers, collection of data, and segmentation. This will help to ensure efficient media campaigns because you know who you’re targeting, what is working and how to target people specifically
    • second party data is scalable, allowing us to find bespoke and transparent partnerships
    • third party data is openly available, but is often costly. While it may be highly useful information, it is dependent on your budget and doesn’t always provide you with something to make a great piece of content
  • Ben was next to take the stand, talking about data driven content marketing
    • 86% of marketers use content marketing in their strategy. 70% of businesses create more content than they did this time a year ago. Yet only 35% have a documented strategy in place, shared between their team and their clients
    • a 7-step content process can be highly effective in building your strategy from the data you have available: data collection, audience insight, strategy creation, campaign creation, distribution, optimisation, reporting
    • Run a content campaign like you would a paid campaign. You wouldn’t throw all of your money into PPC from the word go, you would start small and build up once you’ve experimented and worked out what works, opportunities, etc
  • Paul was next, talking about search and first party data, with emphasis on RLSA
    • Consumers in the digital world are free to move around and we can’t control where they go. We can, however, track where they go and use the data to inform our strategies to keep them on or direct them to our own sites
    • Data itself is ubiquitous and needs to be interpreted properly to be useful
    • RLSA allows you to specifically target past customers and site visitors, and also to leverage new keyword opportunities
    • You can then deliver compelling, targeted messages to your customers
    • First-party data is owned by us and is highly useful, including behavioural activity, interests etc
    • You can start with what is available in Google Analytics, but you need 1,000 cookies in a list in order for RLSA to work but the opportunities are wide-ranging once you have that data
  • Ann was the last one up, talking about SEO analytics and forecasting. This presentation gave a case study of a client in a competitive industry and how a data-driven approach can help ‘smaller’ clients to compete with their ‘bigger’ rivals
    • You don’t need to have a huge budget with national television ad campaigns to compete
    • Tools such as SEO Monitor can give “not provided” data which can be used to help us to target opportunities
    • Be sure to track the keywords of your competitors to find gaps and opportunities

So that’s it. SAScon 2015 has now been and gone and I hope that you’ve found this summary as interesting as I found my two days. There was a lot to take in and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this post and my notes several times to make sure I understand it all.

The best thing is, however, that all of the speakers seemed more than happy to discuss the topics with the audience so be sure to send them an email or a message on Twitter if it’s all still a bit hazy!

If you’ve got anything from any of the presentations above that you think should be listed, comment below and I’ll add it in.