I went to BrightonSEO and all I got was this extraordinarily useful insight into digital marketing

Free makes me suspicious. Free lunch, free trial, free conference — if something’s free it’s usually a trap — or crap. And yet, Friday 19 Sept was my third trip to BrightonSEO, and it’s that rarest of gems: a free conference that is actually more than puffed up sponsors droning on about their products.

Despite the name, BrightonSEO isn’t just about search engine optimisation, it’s really about anything to do with digital marketing. And this time, the emphasis was very much on social content. Awesome. Let’s dig in.

Content marketing

Content marketing suffers from ‘my-kid-could-do-that-itus’ — if it works and looks simple, it must be easy. See also copywriting (how hard can it be? I’ve been writing since primary school!) and graphic design (all I need is Indesign, right?).

And it’s true: content marketing really is easy. Easy to do badly anyway.

Stacey MacNaught kicked things off with a great talk about the importance of promotion plans and budgets are for successful content campaigns. Guess what: when you set goals, analyse your audience, go to where they are and give them content they want, things go well. Who knew.

Success looks different for each project, and maybe even each piece of content. Sometimes you might be after direct conversions, sometimes links, sometimes social shares (which are more important than you might think — more on that later). Knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve means you won’t waste time on something that might be cool, but useless for your aims.

Who are you talking to anyway? YouGov Profiles can be a useful profiling tool, as can Facebook Audience Insights, and even Google Display Planner. Did you know these can even tell you which publications your audience reads — ie where you should be focusing on getting your content? (It’s ok if you didn’t. Humility is a virtue.)

Here’s a great tip for getting buy in from major influencers — don’t wait until you’ve got your great content to contact them. Reach out to them before you start. Ask them if they’re interested in the topic you’re planning your content on, and secondly, ask them if they have any specific questions or ideas they’d also like you to cover. You know what this sounds like? An old fashioned article pitch. And it is. The difference is that what you’re producing could be anything from a video to an infographic to a piece of research, and they’re not paying you to do it. Not with money anyway — they’re paying you by granting you an audience with their audience.

Social signals

A few speakers, including Stacey McNaught and Christoph C Cemper, made the same point about social media — people love to like and share content, but it doesn’t actually mean they know what they’re sharing. It’s ridiculous. How you describe your content is therefore as important than the actual content. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that how you describe your content is more important than the content — that makes it clickbait. Don’t do that. Stay classy.

Christoph actually went further and pointed out that some social signals are really easy to fake. He didn’t say it quite like this, but pay someone a quid and they’ll spend 5 mins clicking ‘like’ on your last 50 Facebook posts. (Don’t do that). Or write some code to create an army of Twitter bots to do your automated bidding (don’t do that either).

Likes and shares tell you something, but if you really want to measure user engagement, look at links, or comments, or downloads — actions that show more of a commitment from your audience.

A few weeks ago, in early Sept 2015, BuzzSumo and Moz got together to do some terrific research on this. Go and read the whole report because it’s ace, but for the purposes of this piece let’s zoom in on 2 details:

1. There is no correlation between shares and links. What’s more, some format of content (eg videos) tend to attract huge shares and few links

2. Social sharing is personal, easy, and helps you define what kind of person you are (or want to be seen as). Links are harder to get, and used more to cite sources — either to add credibility, or to assign blame.

So what does this mean for content creators? It means that the audience, the medium and the promotion of your content are extremely tightly linked, and you need to consider them all together.

The future of SEO

Telling the future is a fool’s errand. You’re almost guaranteed to get it wrong. So full respect to Britt Soeder for having a look into the crystal ball for us.

Britt’s predictions:

2016 Google will buy Twitter
2017 Social signals will gently steer SERP results
2018 Google will shake up its index and links will be devalued unless supported by social (oh, and the follow/no follow distinction will become redundant)
2020 Google will get really really good at connecting the dots between on a user’s behaviour in search, on-site activity and app activity — basically everything anyone does online.

As online growth continues, the infrastructure needs to keep up. Specifically, 5G. Jon Hibbet sees 5G as the solution to all kinds of bad signal — a seamless network across cellular, wifi, satellite and cable.

5G will be 65,000 times faster than 4G, with test speeds of 1Tbp/s. I can’t wrap my brain around the size of those numbers, but here’s something I do understand: downloading a 12Gb HD movie to smartphone takes 60 minutes on 3G, 24 minutes on 4G, and a second on 5G. A SECOND.

So when will we get 5G? Ofgem is aiming for 2020. (South Korea is planning it for 2018, if you can’t wait that long.)

Tech will obviously be a massive factor in the future of SEO — forget mobile and desktop, it’ll be about curating and shaping content for watches and other wearables. And what about voice search? (55% of US teens already use it regularly). Or 3D websites?

Personally I’m very skeptical about the idea of 3D websites — I think they’ll suffer the same fate as augmented reality, which for all the razzmatazz is still too clunky to be anything more than a solar powered concept car in a world of diesel traffic jams.

But Britt is more of a dreamer than me, and can see a world of 3D Ikea websites, where we can see and buy furniture, all laid out prettily in a room. How would SEO work in this textless, navigationless website world?

Well, social signals would be the distinguisher in this new digital landscape. And with this we’re back to one of the themes of the day — the importance of meaningful traction on social media.

The details are varied and sometimes contradictory, but broadly most of the BrightonSEO speakers discussing content agreed that social media can only become more powerful and nuanced. Social signals need to take centre stage in our discussions around SEO and digital marketing, because Google already is, or will soon be watching social signals to determine the value of a given piece of content.

Speakers’ presentations, posted with permission:
Mapping Your Content Marketing Efforts to Your Customer Journey by @staceycav
http://www.slideshare.net/impactana by @cemper

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