What I learned at BrightonSEO…featuring Pippa Middleton’s underwear

10Sep11

BrightonSEO conference logo

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the very decent and very free BrightonSEO conference.

Although I’m not an SEO specialist, I’m interested in the subject and wanted to take the opportunity to see my friend and ex-colleague, Erika Ungar (@erikau) give her first public talk.

Gratefully, I was among the like-minded as I sat with 3 other copywriters who shared my interest. I won’t summarise the whole conference as I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers doing that – but I will summarise what I found particularly interesting/enjoyable from the day.

If you want to jump to a specific talk, please use the quick-links! You can also watch the presentations on YouTube, although it seems they’re not all uploaded yet.

How to win at SEO with duplicate content – featuring Pippa Middleton’s arse
Google Panda:  A case study
Choosing and implementing friendly URLs for eCommerce
My Hack Day addiction
Building a private blog network
Beyond the last click: Finding hidden SEO value with Multi-Channel Funnels
Market research: Informing SEO and Link development
James Bond: Architecture critic
Attracting Links
Dr Social Love: Or how I learned to stop worrying about Google algorithms and love the people

How to win at SEO with duplicate content – featuring Pippa Middleton’s arse

A talk by a man who can obviously write a headline (which I’ve shamefully ripped off in this post!) – Malcolm Coles, Director at Digital Sparkle, gave an interesting talk about how to get featured in Google search results multiple times for the same piece of content.

If I understood correctly – the technique he used was as follows:

  • He undertook some keyword research and found a popular subject that there wasn’t much content around. In Malcolm’s example, he used the keywords ‘Pippa Middleton underwear’ (following a recent scoop whereby Pippa was pictured in a bikini).
  • Malcolm then wrote a piece of content targeting these keywords on his blog under an original URL. This content was crawled and then indexed by Google.
  • At this point, Malcolm went into his post (made on WordPress) and added an extra character to the URL to change it.
  • This caused WordPress to automatically 301 redirect the original post to the new URL. Google crawled and indexed the new URL that leads to the same piece of content, without initially realising that the content is the same.
  • Malcolm then repeated this process a third time. By the time Google had indexed the third link to the same content, a Google search of ‘Pippa Middleton underwear’ returned 3 links to Malcolm’s blog (all on page 1, pictured below), each pointing toward the same piece of content.

Image of Malcolm's Google search results

The result of Malcolm’s experiment was an exponential rise in traffic to his blog, up from the usual 1000 visits a day to an enormous 30,000 visits at the peak of his experiment.

Image of Malcolm's blog traffic

It didn’t take Google long to realise that the old URLs were simply redirects pointing to the same content and they were soon removed. But – Malcolm demonstrated how this technique could gain your site thousands of extra visitors.

That’s not to say it’s the ‘right’ thing to do of course – but it was interesting to learn that Google could be used this way. Malcolm has since been in touch on Twitter with a link to his blog post on the subject – Winning at duplicate content. Read it!

Google Panda:  A case study

Being a former employee of Reevoo (the reviews and price comparison site), this talk by Jonathan Stewart, Head of Search and Social Media at Reviewcentre.com, was of particular interest to me.

To cut a long story short, Reviewcentre.com was hit hard by the Panda update (watch the talk for actual stats). Having reviewed their site following the release, Reviewcentre made many efforts to improve their site. They carried out a redesign, moved the ads on the page to make them more conspicuous and they put more, relevant content above the fold.

However, despite their efforts, they have so far seen no recovery from Panda whatsoever. They have also made the interesting decision to place their ads back in their former positions. Personally, I thought this might be a little hasty (after only 2 months of trying the ‘new look’). But hey, I’m not the expert!

I was most interested in Jonathan’s ideas about why Panda may have targeted them so severely (assuming that it wasn’t the design and spammy ad placement). Going through Google’s webmaster checklist, Jonathan picked out a number of questions that it seemed his site, (as well as Reevoo’s and many other review sites), would be susceptible to failing on. Eg:

  • Does your site content contain a lot of spelling and grammatical mistakes?  (Yes – because it’s full of unedited, user generated content)
  • Is your content well edited? (No, they have a policy of not editing user content)
  • Is your contact produced en-mass from outside sources? (Yes, it’s user generated content)

And so the list went on in a similar vein. However, I was unconvinced by this argument, considering that a number of other review sites were not hit with a penalty anything like as severe as the one received by reviewcentre.com.

However, the talk was interesting and it was nice to see Jonathan admit, with some humility, that reviewcentre.com was flawed. It’s only a shame that he couldn’t deliver any positive news or results on his attempts to recover from Panda, if only to teach us a lesson on how to do it.

Choosing and implementing friendly URLs for eCommerce

My friend and ex-colleague Erika Ungar, Search and Usability expert at BouxAvenue.com (a really lovely lingerie website), gave this talk.

Erika explained how she devised a friendly URL structure for BouxAvenue.com (having been on-staff at the site since before its launch – a rare opportunity!). She described how she had to compromise both with the developers and the database system she had to work with, while also attempting to make URLs readable and friendly for the users.

Check out BouxAvenue.com to see what she came up with – I thought it was very inventive!

My Hack Day addiction

This talk was given by Dom Hodgson, Head of Stupid Projects at Pizza Powered. Being an advocate of Hack Days myself (although sadly, never an attendee), Dom spoke passionately (refreshingly and hilariously) about the benefits of Hack Days and the inspirational results they can have.

By the end of the talk I wished I could code (or design, or do anything useful!) so that I too could take part in one. Do it!

Building a private blog network

Sitting among a gaggle of copywriters (possibly the wrong collective noun?), this talk from John Mcelborough, SEO Consultant at Ioptimal, proved to be a little controversial.

John talked about how to set up your own private blog networks to basically provide reasonable quality incoming links to your main website. His idea was to set up blogs across loads of domains (as many as 50 – 100), launch them with 10-15 pieces of content and then continue to maintain and grow them. Once they gain enough authority, you can start using them to give good quality links and traffic to your main website.

John admitted that this was an activity he partook in himself, using copywriting services whereby you submit an article title and a freelance writer produces the article for you for a fee (a service like Copyblogger for example. Hmph.)

This made me and my fellow copywriters shake our heads a little, as John seemed to be condoning the creation of endless and quite frankly, ‘not very good’ content with which to fill the internet. He even used the word ‘dubious’ himself.

While I don’t approve of this practice, I appreciate his honesty and realise that it’s valuable to learn how and why others take part in this type of search activity.

Beyond the last click: Finding hidden SEO value with Multi-Channel Funnels

This talk from Dara Fitzgerald, Head of Insight at Fresh Egg, revealed a new feature in Google Analytics known as ‘Multi Channel Funnels’.

Dara explained how, using this feature, analysts will be able to correctly attribute a sale to the multiple channels a user has them visited from before buying. This means that the analyst is able to attribute an ‘assist’ to other channels when a sale is made, rather than having to settle for using either the first (introducing) or last (sale closing) channel to attribute the sale to.

For sites that have online goals, this sounded like a brilliant and invaluable analytical tool, considering that marketing can take place across so many different channels.

Market research: Informing SEO and Link development

Rosie Freshwater, Managing Director at Leapfrogg, gave a talk advocating the importance of customer research before engaging in marketing activity.

This included methods such as focus groups and large consumer surveys to really get to the core of what your audience is like, what they want, what drives them and ultimately, how to sell to them.

I couldn’t agree more with Rosie’s talk (although it was a lot to take in in the 20, 20 second slides she had!), although sadly, I think it’s too often left out of the marketing process.

James Bond: Architecture critic

I’d like to say a big thank you to Toby Barnes, Principle at Mudlark Production Company.

Even now, on reflection, it is hard to pinpoint the ‘point’ of his talk on modernity. However, I can tell you that it was refreshing, extremely funny and woke up the entire audience from a heat-induced lull. Thanks Toby!

Attracting Links

Another engaging and brilliant speaker, Dave Peiris, Freelance SEO (@sharkseo on Twitter), talked passionately about creating brilliant apps and content in order to attract links to your site.

He cited ‘Just Buy This One’, developed by the lovely folk at Reevoo, as just one example of a brilliant, innovative and useful website that really works to attract high quality, un-buyable inbound links.

He advocated the agile idea of ‘failing quickly’; putting your ideas out there quickly and seeing what happens. If it fails – ditch it, if it works – make it better. He argued that, while infographics and apps are becoming over-abundant on the web, there will always be room for more useful content (amen!).

He has kindly uploaded the slides from his presentation: Attracting links.

Dr Social Love: Or how I learned to stop worrying about Google algorithms and love the people

This talk by James Carson, Head of Search Marketing at Bauer Media, particularly interested me.

He talked a great deal about ways to build a social community around your product/site and how that can have an enormous pay off in the long run (for one of their publications, 20% of their traffic comes from Twitter. Quite impressive!)

His talk was convincing and inspiring but (and this is a big but), this guy had magazines such as FHM and Heat in his arsenal. I have to admit that every time I hear a talk all about social from guys with huge brands or super-popular publications, I have to be cynical about how relevant the advice can really be for smaller players.

What I’d really like to see is a talk about how and if social media can work for small companies who don’t deal in glamorous products or services – the plumbers and electricians for example, or B2B marketers who don’t have the same, captive B2C audience. Who knows – maybe one day, I’ll be giving this talk myself!

Edit: James has uploaded his slides and commented on this post. Check out both!

Just for fun

I think all of us at BrightonSEO were pretty star-struck when we were played this personally recorded message from Matt Cutts himself!

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5 Responses to “What I learned at BrightonSEO…featuring Pippa Middleton’s underwear”

  1. Hi Jen,

    Aware that these brands are pretty big, but actually think all the tactics stated are relevant to anyone. You could get social spurts if you were an electrician if you were creative enough. Compare the Market is run of the mill comparison website insurance – couldn’t be more boring! Yet they got the creative right and now have over a million connections on social media.

    I’ve got 180 followers on Twitter and have only been using it for about six weeks personally – I don’t have a big reach, but by networking and writing content for specific players to retweet, I’ve had a fast accelerating Klout score.

    Let me know if you want to talk further @mrjamescarson

    • Hi James,
      Thanks for leaving a comment – I have to admit I never expected many visitors to this post, let alone a speaker!

      My write up in retrospect was probably lacking. I think what I was trying to say, was that in my experience working for smaller companies with much smaller budgets, gaining this sort of traction via social media is extremely difficult. That’s not to say it can’t work – but I do believe that it takes a significant investment both in time and resource (people, mostly.) This makes it expensive, and despite your brilliant example, it’s still extremely rare to find ROI positive social media examples (although I’m keenly aware that this isn’t always the point of social media).

      I find myself frustrated as I work for a relatively small company that markets b2b (a tough crowd), and I so rarely come across examples or advice that seems applicable to our situation (small budget, b2b marketing and a fairly ‘uninteresting’, although valuable, service to market).

      I hope I made clear that I really enjoyed your talk – I’ve rarely seen such a strong example of social media working well. I think the difference between a company like ours and Compare the Market is probably budget – with enough money, you can hire the right agency or the right in-house staff, and you can try and fail with different campaigns and creatives. Also, Compare the Market’s success is based largely on a hugely successful (albeit irritating) television ad. This campaign would’ve cost them millions, which I’m sure you’d agree is not within the reach of your average small business.

      I’d love to hear a few examples of smaller companies who don’t work in traditionally ‘interesting’ industries, making a big success of their social media.

  2. Thanks for this response. Compare the Market certainly had a huge budget and excellent creative (some people think it’s irritating – I do, but it is genius) and they really used TV to drive it. It’s just interesting to me that such a well thought out campaign has completely changed their positioning.

    B2B is sort of a different kettle of fish and Facebook probably isn’t where it’s at. I’d certainly think you’ll have more to do on LinkedIn and Twitter. Still, I think it’s still a lot about hustling big players (think Inbetweeners page) and getting your content talked about by creating stuff that’s relevant to the big players.

    I’ll suggest a couple of books to point you in social ROI – Li & Bernoff: Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, and Gary Vaynerchuck: Crush It! Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion.

    I firmly believe that if you’re prepared to spend the hours building up content and distributing it beyond office hours, you’ll get traction over the long term. It’s not easy. Gary Vaynerchuck is pretty amazing – he owned a wine business, grew it to $60 million turnover, then quit as CEO and set up a wine video blog at winelibrary.tv – he’s now pretty much America’s most famous wine critic now and it’s certainly helped his business! Check out Zappos.com too – a service company that happens to sell shoes, bought out by Amazon last year.

    Granted, social is easier (although often more complex and a minefield) for established brands, but it’s also a fantastic tool for establishing your brand.


  1. 1 Brighton SEO 2011 – Is there a Black Hat in the room? – a controversial talk by John McElborough « Silicon Beach Training Blog
  2. 2 Brighton SEO 2011 – Round up Round up « Silicon Beach Training Blog

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