A few months ago I attended a Guardian Master Class on Data Visualisation hosted by Tobias Sturt, Head of creative at Guardian Digital Agency and Adam Frost, Data Visualisation Manager at Guardian Digital Agency. Both were incredibly friendly, down-to-earth and made the class very enjoyable. I highly recommend checking them (and their work) out. Data ...
Those of you who know me may well be surprised but I was left nearly speechless by just how good the last few days Nichola and I spent in Iceland were.
Quite frankly, it was without a doubt the best few days I've spent in my professional career, and we are already discussing our plans for attending next year. The Reykjavik Internet Marketing Conference was simply superb.
There was so much content that I'm not going to be able to cover everyone in sufficient depth in this post - by my count there were just about 20 sessions or panels crammed into the day. I've whizzed through as much as possible on this post but you might still want to grab a coffee before settling down to read the rest it!
The Golden Circle
We arrived early and spent our first day out on a tour exploring The Golden Circle. As this is an SEO blog, I won't linger too long on these details here, but Nichola and I have got a load more photos up on theMediaFlow Facebook page.
So much snow! More than this soft English southerner has ever encountered in his life!
Intro with The President of Iceland
I kid you not. The conference was opened by the actual President of Iceland:
Can you imagine David Cameron doing that at any Internet Marketing events in the UK? I doubt it is very likely!
He had some really interesting things to say, tying into the conference theme of "You Are Not In Control".
The President talked about established Western political structures being revolutionised by Information Technology and Social Media, with an example given in regards to the banking crisis issues, which ended up with 25% of the Icelandic population signing a petition to force a referendum.
One of his final points was absolutely spot on as well - what we've seen so far is just the beginning - no one knows what the landscape will be like 10 years from now.
The Filter Bubble
Is the Internet as democratic as we'd hoped?
Is it the great connective force that we think it is?
Eli told us a tale of how he broadened his Facebook friends deliberately to look at political views from both sides. However, Facebook only displayed the liberal stories which tied in to the activity of posts that Eli interacted with. Why? Because:
In the quest for relevance - things get perfectly targeted to you. But personalised information can lead to personalised facts too. As time goes on it's going to become harder and harder to watch or learn things that haven't been specifically tailored to them.
Is this a good thing? Should these algorithms tailoring this information to us have this sort of control? What information do we NOT see as a result of our filter bubbles?
We need these information gatekeepers to challenge us. To show us other points of view, things that we need to see. Can we rely on them to do this?
I found this a really interesting opening to the day and I am certainly interested in checking out the book further. It certainly asks some pertinent questions about matters that should concern all of us, as this information helps us to determine what we perceive as fact. Those facts being presented to all of us vary based on our own previous personal views, or those in our networks, is somewhat unsettling as it distorts the perception of our own personal realities.
Social Media Marketing Sessions
At a lightning pace, straight after Eli had finished we were flung headlong into the Social Media track. Here we had presentations from Bill Hunt from Back Azimuth Consulting, Ben Chapman, Head of Popular Music at the BBC, Paul Madden from Automatica and Hubert Sepidnam (AKA Mr Taster) from Kaspid.
I really enjoyed all 4 of these sessions.
Bill looked at what search data reveals about customer needs and desires. We need to understand searchers - search suggest and related searches need to be leveraged as this is what people want to know around those root topics. We need to understand query intent better as this can be a great opportunity for new products and services to drive a business forward. Language has to be used in the way people looking for them use it, it's no good using internal jargon - forcing users down that path doesn't work!
Ben from the BBC looks after all the popular radio channels. Ben overcame some technical challenges to deliver a really interesting presentation about the challenges of getting content out onto the website whilst the audience interest was high (i.e. it has to get out immediately or interest wanes!).
Liveness and Friendship are the 2 core drivers of all BBC radio now - listen, watch and share!
Paul is a speaker that I've seen a few times before, and have always really enjoyed, and RIMC was no different. Paul whizzed through a presentation about building a Twitter Bot Army (I really want to get to see those slides again as I just couldn't write fast enough). This presentation took us through why you'd want a Twitter Bot Army, what you need to do to build it, and what you might want to do with it. The golden rules here seemed to be mixing up real outsourced people with some automation and most importantly, don't be anti-social.
Hubert, AKA Mr Taster led us through a really fun presentation looking at how to operate on social media in countries like Iran where he came from, where Twitter, Facebook, YouTube; even Google AdWords are banned.
Seeing as they couldn't get any traction from the main company account (Facebook is for fun right, no one wanted to read SEO articles on there), they created a persona called Mr Taster, full of adventures and cartoons from tasting lots of food. Despite Facebook being banned in Iran this got fantastic local pick up and by all accounts Mr Taster is quite the celebrity these days!
Internet Marketing Sessions
In this final session before lunch we had 3 more presentations squeezed in. First up we had Matt Neal from BrightSparx, followed by Massimo Burgio from Global Search Interactive and finally Ludvik HÃ¸egh-Krohn from OMG.
Matt was looking at how Social and Search are not the new TV but instead are the new telephone. This presentation looked at why businesses shouldn't start using social because its popular without having a driving reason to actually be using it. Why use it? How does it fit in? What will you get out of it? These are the questions you need to ask yourself before getting involved.
Ludvik looked at the new GTLD applications being made (which could cost some businesses and groups a couple of million Euros!). These were mostly being broken down in to 4 groups: Brands, City/Areas, Generics and Communities.
There is only a short window left on applications here though, so if you are thinking of applying you'd better do it soon. Ludvik suggested that there could be PR benefits for the first few big brands to start using a .brand domain. I'm not convinced that these will be that huge, as .coms are so deeply engrained in the user psyche at the moment, but it will certainly be interesting when some of these applications get approved and sites start to use them.
Massimo looked at Social Media Policies. What are they? Why do you need one? This was a really energetic performance and my favourite example policy was simply "Don't be stupid". Massimo closed with a really good video by the Department of Justice in Victoria, Australia and this was so well produced I've embedded it below:
Making the Most of Facebook
The first session after wolfing down lunch was with Charles Dowd from Facebook, who offered us an insight behind the scenes there.
I though Charles was brave to acknowledge Eli's concerns about the Filter Bubbles and said that Facebook were constantly aware of this and looking at ways to ensure that the users don't just get tied in to these bubbles.
Some of Charles' more interesting points were:
EVERY page you look at on Facebook is personalised specifically to you.
A lot of their ideas come from their hackathons and hack culture, including the phone app and the timeline features.
One of their favourite motto's is "Move Fast and Break Things" - focus on getting things done. Also, that if you never fail, you probably aren't trying hard enough.
PPC & More Sessions
As I don't use PPC particularly often specifically myself I often find it interesting to learn more about this side of Search Marketing. Here we had Phil Greenwood from Microsoft, lafur Kr. lafsson from Nordic eMarketing and Bardur Orn Gunnarsson from Hvitahusid.
Phil's presentation was titled "The Mafia, Bachelor Parties, Black Hat and Me" and started with a marketing effectiveness quiz where the audience scored themselves on how much they had influence over marketing with their roles.
The message here was that Marketing and Innovation are what produces results. Everything else comes at a cost. We need to get ahead of analytics and develop much deeper customer insights.
Be the voice of your customer in your organisation and pre-launch market like hell to generate early awareness of products and services. Most of all though, "Be Lucky"!
Lafur looked at the bigger picture beyond Google Adwords. You have to use marketing tactics hand by hand and say it like you mean it. Offline and online marketing should never be a head to head duel and should focus on supporting one another.
We were shown a case study looking at the lack of visibility between a Home Improvement show sponsor and the tiles they had (and what they didn't do to join up those segments).
Bardur's session looked at paid search being the beginning, not the end, allowing for real time market research.
This centred on another case study using Facebook ads to A/B test to identify what the audience wanted (in this case, it was looking at the local airline and what route they should be looking to add to their flight plans).
The lesson mostly learned from this was that you had to be careful about the results found on only one medium. When this market research was carried out on different platforms it produced varying results, and the aggregated scores across all the areas that they used for this had very different results to the initial Facebook only tests.
Organic with a Twist Sessions
The final sessions that I'll be properly writing up were the organic with a twist presentations.
Brent started these sessions with Social Media to Improve SEO. Brent urged us to get involved and start talking, explaining about his rule of thirds - 1/3rd activities on social platforms should be Personal, Self/Company Promotion and Interesting/Useful Info.
Brent looked at the ways you can bypass SEO results for particular terms by helping "enhance" (ok, the word was "manipulate") Google Suggest results to display messages that will push users directly to your site without going to the main SERP they might have been thinking to search for originally.
There was some controversy on this talk - I'm not going to get into those, but the over-arching message was "We, as SEOs, have one task...get results for clients. We should not care about anything beyond that."
The methods used for the Google Search Suggest manipulation were quite interesting - particularly the final ones of these that we were asked not to repeat. I can certainly see it would be fun (and potentially make some clients lots of money) to play around with these techniques.
Next up was Barbara Coll with SEO, Keywords and the Sales Funnel. This centred on making sure you identify the right sort of phrases across the spectrum of buying cycles, producing content for education, content for product spaces and much more.
A lot of this resonated strongly with me, as in the past some of the most successful campaigns I've worked on have been built on the foundation of producing truly worthy resource content to cover users at the research stages of the cycle, the purchase and the post purchase. Dominating all these areas in a particular niche is certainly an effective content based SEO Strategy. Most of all though, keep building this content up - there is always more to write about!
Motoko took us through an the process that Adobe went through to bring search activities at Adobe in-house, and breaking out from the multi-agency model that they'd used previously. This was all about reducing the number of cooks in the kitchen, streamlining processes and being responsible for achieving the required growth targets.
This allowed the development of an over-arching strategy for search that was integrated at all levels. It meant that best practice guidelines could be adopted by all the stakeholders at every stage and that KPIs could be unified as much as possible, as everyone knew what was being measured and why.
Sepita looked at Large Scale Linkbuilding. This presentation took us through what you need with link campaigns at larger scales, looking at why it was necessary for competitive terms, quality vs quantity, trust & social signals, whilst, of course, being "invisible" to Google - needing to be as natural as possible.
We were presented with further information on anchor text variations (brand, non brand and beyond), link location, sitewide vs content links, deeplink vs homepage ratios, follow/no follow and velocity. Plenty of food for thought was given here, as well as some ideas of what you could (and shouldn't) do to get what you need.
The Dark Session
I don't really want to write up too much from this session. It was great fun and definitely thought provoking but some of the topics were not all that suitable for sharing, and there was definitely some "adult" themes running through it.
I think the chord was struck with the following statements though:
"It's not about 'hats', its about achieving goals" and
"Blackhat shouldn't necessarily 'harm' innocent bystanders"
I'll return to my title... just WOW. We've had such an awesome, unforgettable time in Iceland and we absolutely cannot wait to return.
A huge thanks to Kristjan Mar Hauksson, founder of Nordic eMarketing, his family and all of the team that organised the event. Everyone truly made us feel welcome. All you UK (and beyond) search marketers reading this should start planning for coming along with Nichola and I next year!
Now I just have to hope that videos of my singing at the after party don't surface anywhere - I'll save that particular public embarrassment for BrightonSEO in a months time!
I've done my best to link everyone up when I could find the right places - let me know if I've missed any though.
Also, thanks to Jackie Hole for letting me borrow all the pictures.