This week, I was lucky enough to win a ticket to Econsultancy’s Digital Shorts event on the HMS President.

Econsultancy looked after us with lots of free tea and drinks, a tasty lunch and a very nice venue. I was only slightly queasy by the end and decided to end my boat-themed day by catching the Thames Clipper home. in the picture below, you can just about make out the HMS President to the right.

Image of the HMS President at night

The talks I’ll be covering were:

Change – A World In Flux. Will Francis, Social Advertising Consultant at DDB UK, Co-Founder and Director at Harkable
It’s not a numbers game anymore. Community Management. Andrew Davis, Social Media Trainer, The Worst Kept Secret
Leverage your presence on LinkedIn. Roger Jones, Digital Management Consultant, Actionable Insight
Content strategy and storytelling. Tim Tucker, Content Strategist and User Experience Designer

Change – A world in Flux

The first talk of the day was given by Will Francis whose impressive credentials included a role as Editor for MySpace (when it was still popular.)
The crux of Will’s talk was around the fact that the internet is changing. Every second of every day; every time we touch it, the internet changes. You can’t take the net down and every single user is inextricably interconnected.
He shared an impressive stat (which I can’t source I’m afraid) that by 2040, it’s thought that the internet will have the processing power of all the human brains on Earth at that time. Truly terrifying!
He hit on a point I found interesting – that passive viewing on the internet is impossible. Every time you look at something on the internet, your search or your imprint will be telling someone, somewhere what you were looking for, or what you want to look at. Eventually, the web will become so hyper-targeted for each individual using the vast amounts of data that the likes of Google and Facebook are collecting about us, that the internet will become a reflection of ourselves. We’ll merge with the web.
Then Will showed us a clip from Tron, just to demonstrate what could happen – literally.
At this point, Will discussed what Web 3.0 could look like; the “seamless integration of publishing into our lives”. They’ll be a shadow of us on the internet wherever we go as we use apps like 4Square and Instagram all the hours we’re awake to share online. I think he hit the nail on the head here.
The next point covered was about how to keep up with the constantly changing internet. In digital marketing, it’s almost become expected that companies need to break the rules and do something ‘new’ in order to keep fresh. To quote Will directly, “change is good – that’s how we thrive in Digital Media”. At this point, he ran us through his main tips on how to do this successfully.
Know your audience. Don’t try to create communities – only go to where they are. Go to where people are talking about you, your product or service. Identify the conversations that are already taking place.
Who are you? Your tone in social media content cannot be the same as your advertising tone. Be honest and human and remain honest in a crisis. For many companies, social media provides a fantastic chance to be open with its customers.
How can you be relevant? Relevancy is key in content creation – perhaps even above quality. Your content must be useful or entertaining. Ask yourself, “would I like this?”
Do we know the technology? Involve people who deeply understand the technology. Many companies are held back by their incorrect assumptions and expectations of technological platforms.
Do you know your influencers? Find the people who love what you do. Engage with them. Advocacy grows over time.
This brings us to the end of a very interesting talk that held lots of great examples of brilliantly executed marketing campaigns. Once the slides have been posted, I should be able to link to a few of them!

It’s not a numbers game anymore

This next talk was delivered by Andrew Davis who also worked at MySpace during the wonder years, followed by the BBC and now, his own company. Andrew focused on community management and how a great community manager can have a wide-reaching impact in a business.
Andrew started by addressing one of social media’s main issues compared to other types of marketing – and that is the ‘human factor’. There are lots more variables with social media, right down to the time of day you choose to interact with people. He added that, it doesn’t matter how many people are in your community, you have to look after them.
He made an interesting point about looking outside of your industry for inspiration on great marketing ideas – if you take inspiration from someone within your industry, you’ll be accused of copying. But if you take inspiration from those outside your industry and give it a new twist, you can come up with something innovative and new in your sector.
Andrew’s checklist when creating community content boiled down to ‘sharing’, ‘searching’ and ‘discoverability’. Perhaps the hardest part, you need to make content that people will want to share. Then you need to optimise it and seed it to make it discoverable via search and then, you need to make it discoverable via every possible route.
He then covered the finer points of conversation, which occurs in 3 stages. Listening, interpreting and deciding what to say. Most companies focus on what they should say, when really, 80% of the focus should be on listening and understanding. For this – you need the human element. A computer or search algorithm can never give you a true reflection on people’s sentiments on the web.
The most difficult part comes when Andrew ask the question, ‘How do I measure?’ First of all, you need to understand what a normal day looks like so you can compare it to a ‘campaign day’. You need to attach analytics to every possible avenue, learn as much as you can about your audience and then feed those learnings through to your offline campaigns.
A great community manager should go from being a ‘nice to have’ to being ‘indispensable’. If they’re listening all the time, they can give invaluable insights to other areas of the company on who your customers are, what they’re saying, what they want/need and what they’re hungry for.

Leverage your presence on LinkedIn

Roger Jones, an obvious fan of LinkedIn, gave this interesting presentation that covered all the brilliant features the business networking site has that many people don’t know about.

LinkedIn define themselves as an ‘information and sharing space’. It’s still the business network of choice with 2-3 million new users signing up every month across 180 countries. It’s not just used for recruitment – it serves 50m searches per week and the UK is taking it on far more than the rest of Europe.

Roger’s talk was brilliant but largely covered the cool functions that LinkedIn has – so I’ll run through a list of those here quickly:

  • Advanced search – an extremely powerful and granular search tool
  • LinkedIn skills – tag your skills to make yourself easier to find
  • Apps – use LinkedIn’s multiple apps to help syndicate your content
  • LinkedIn Labs – LinkedIn have many experimental features here you can help them trial, with successful tests often being integrated into the site full-time
  • Groups – use groups to become an influencer in your industry
  • Job seeker accounts – upgrade to a job seeker account if you’re looking for a job – you’ll be prioritised in searches for example
  • Integrate your LinkedIn with Outlook to get additional insights on your contacts before you get i touch
  • LinkedIn app for smartphones – take LinkedIn with you wherever you go – share a virtual business card with other LinkedIn users
  • LinkedIn resume builder – does what it says on the tin! Handy if you’re in a rush.
  • LinkedIn Today will provide you with a newsfeed that shows you what all your friends are looking at.

Roger added an interesting statistic that for every 1 thing a person posts, 9 people interact with it and 90 more get to see it. He added that getting people to interact with your brand can be liked ‘pulling teeth’, stating that “nobody talks about something that’s not worth talking about”.

Content strategy and storytelling

This talk was probably the most inspiring of the day for me (although they were all brilliant) and came from Tim Tucker; content strategist, user experience expert and all round digital expert.

Tim approached the idea of content from a ‘storytelling’ or narrative point of view. He said that, instead of interrupting people with our TV advertising and getting in the way of what they want to be doing – we should create engaging content that they are seeking out.

Then Tim covered the ‘science of stories’. It is scientifically proven that, as human beings, we used narrative to make sense of a world chock-full of attacks on our senses at every moment of the day. Our memories are interwoven in such a way that forming them into narratives makes memory recollection far quicker and more powerful. In short – narrative appeals to our human nature.

Successful brands are stories that resonate with their customers’ world view. We don’t have the time or power to change people’s stories – we need to understand people and their stories to understand them. 

Try to listen to your customers and find out their stories by keeping your eye on the places where they interact. Create personas who represent those users and further to that, create scenarios that represent the average user experience with your company. Then, when you undertake your marketing, aim it at those personas specifically – it will help you to keep a tight focus.

Good stories should:

  • Communicate your message
  • Establish relationships
  • Demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership
  • Persuade your audience to take action.

People themselves are engaging subjects for content – tell your cusotmers’ stories, tell your employees’ stories – feed all of this into your content. Project your personality. Use your copywriting to ‘show’, not tell.

Tim added that there are three vital elements to a successful story:

It must be memorable. Make it simple, unexpected, concrete, credible and emotional.

A good story is authentic. Embrace your own story – live the story you’re telling.

A good story evokes emotion. We buy based on emotions. A good story is human.

I really enjoyed Tim’s approach to content as it gave me an interesting new perspective on how readers digest content and what my company could potentially do to stand out. It simply made very good sense.

So I’d like to thank Econsultancy for a brilliant, insightful day and all the interesting and friendly people I met in between seminars.


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, was of particular interest to me.

To cut a long story short, 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

However, the talk was interesting and it was nice to see Jonathan admit, with some humility, that 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 (a really lovely lingerie website), gave this talk.

Erika explained how she devised a friendly URL structure for (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 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!

I wanted to put out this quick post to gather people’s opinions on the practice of gathering people’s data from forms before they’ve clicked ‘submit’. 

As a quick example – say you wanted to get a quote from a business to…refit your windows. You start to fill out the form on their website so they’ll contact you later to provide you with a quote. But halfway through the form you run out of time or, more pertinently, decide you don’t WANT this company to have your information on file. So you abandon the form and leave.

My question is – do you think it’s okay for the window fitting company to collect that abandoned data and, more importantly, use it? 

I’ve encountered this question more than once in my professional career and have vociferously stated that I am against it. I am particularly against using the data to contact someone directly, as they made a conscious decision not to submit that data. The counter-arguments I’ve heard are generally:

  • “If they ran out of time, then we are providing them with a useful service by contacting them.”
  • “Hundreds of businesses do it. It counts as a semi-hot lead, as the person has shown some interest in your service.”
A colleague even told me about a practice whereby companies note down the IP addresses of users on their site and then convert those IP addresses to phone numbers for their outbound sales teams to dial.
It was also suggested to me that we could take this data (that hadn’t been submitted) and email the customer, to say “hello! We saw you on our site and wondered if we could help you at all.” It sounds a bit invasive to me and I don’t really like it.
BUT – having said that, I could be in the minority! Please – leave your comments and let me know what you think about this.

Just as a quick disclaimer –I’m not an SEO expert. But I AM a content writer, so I keep my ear to the ground when it comes to SEO. And what I’ve learnt in the last few weeks has made wonder – does Google still have a place for the unsociable among us?

Social, social, social

Facebook LolcatApparently, it’s no great secret that Google is using social signals in their search algorithm far more than they used to.

These ‘social signals’ include links from Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. Google also assess the ‘authority’ of the users posting the links in much the same way they rank the authority of a website; giving more weight to links that come from those users with higher authority.

What does this mean?

In short – if you’re not taking part in the social sphere, you’re not maximising your potential to bring in natural search traffic. At least, that’s the impression I get.

Well, what’s wrong with that?

To me – this move by Google has moved the goalposts for online businesses (yet again), leading to on-site optimisation becoming an even smaller piece of an ever-growing puzzle.  

In theory, I’m not against social media signals helping to rank websites. But it seems to present a few problems.

  • Social networks may become saturated with companies who don’t really want or need to be there.
  • The value of companies taking part in social media per se will be become diluted – it becomes increasingly difficult to offer anything unique.
  • The biggest brands are just going to get bigger and bigger, thanks to enormous customer bases and bottomless marketing budgets.

I’ve always been taught that being ‘social for the sake of it’ is a bad thing – but do we have a choice anymore if we need to maximise our rankings?

But I don’t have anything to say.

This brings me to my final point. What if your company is not a good fit for social? What if the product or service you sell, simply isn’t very interesting? After all, we all need to buy washing up liquid, but we don’t necessarily *care* about it, or want to engage with the people who make it.

How much do these companies stand to lose by not moving into the social sphere? If Fairy Liquid isn’t tweeting, will they start losing rankings and be overtaken by…Cif? (Is that a brand? You can tell I don’t do the washing up much.)

Should we still be giving the advice that if your brand hasn’t got anything useful/good/funny/interesting to say – you shouldn’t say it at all? Or is it too dangerous for brands, (even the chronically dull ones), not to be going social?

 Circle cat

So it’s been a few months since I posted on my blog. Admittedly this is a poor show on my part, but on the other hand, I’ve been crazy busy.

Today, I was inspired to share an extract with you which struck me as poignant:

Ian McEwan

English writer Ian McEwan

“Many writers let their sentences unfold experimentally on the page in order to find out what they are, where they are going, and how they can be shaped. I would sit without a pen in my hand, framing a sentence in my mind, often losing the beginning as I reached the end, and only when the thing was secure and complete would I set it down. I would stare at it suspiciously. Did it really say what I meant? Did it contain an error or ambiguity that I could not see? Was it making a fool of me? Hours of effort produced very little, and very little satisfaction?

From the outside, this slowness and hesitancy may have looked like artistic scrupulousness, and I was happy to present it that way, or let others do it for me. [ … ]The voices of giants were rumbling over my head as I piped up to begin, as it were, my own conversation on the train.”

This is an extract from my English language course text book, where English writer Ian McEwan talks about his self-consciousness as a writer. As someone who often writes, re-writes, and re-writes again, his feelings of uncertainty certainly rang true with my own. So far, I’ve already re-written this post more times than its quality suggests!

This led me to consider how even minor musings via Twitter or Facebook can, for those who claim to be a writer by profession (as I do), act as a public advertisement of your ability. And what bait could be more tempting to those ready to pounce on errors of punctuation, grammar and meaning than a mistake from those who are supposed to get it right every time?

I’m surrounded by those who scrutinise my writing carefully, from my professional work (as they should) right down to my hastily constructed tweets. As such, I find myself in a situation where I’m intensely self-conscious about what I write and how I write it. When I make mistakes, most often in social media spheres, they’re often publicly highlighted, for no other reason than to highlight them.

My question is, as someone who writes for a profession, should I be expected to simply be ‘better’? Should I ensure that every Tweet, Facebook status update and comment on a blog is grammatically flawless? I would never suggest that my professional work should be anything short of mistake-free, but should we be publicly highlighting the mistakes of those who claim to be professionals via their social feeds?

In the interests of keeping this post short, I would like to put out a request to all the would-be pedants out there; please try to restrict your corrections of those who do commit their writing to the public eye. You may feel an entitlement to correct the professionals, but embarrassing others (who mostly aren’t professionals) for a mis-spelling or their mis-use of a word in front of their social network is one of the quickest ways to discourage them from writing at all.

For any other writers-by-trade out there, do you relate to McEwan’s sentiments, or do you write far less self-consciously? Do you think that pointing out the mistakes of others on social networks is important for maintaining standards, and should those of us who tout ourselves as professionals accept that we simply should be ‘better’?

Today while studying for my linguistics degree course, I felt inspired to write a little poetry. This is my first in maybe 10 years and was just for fun. Enjoy!

Pottery cat

She tries to jump but just falls short

She sadly failed to abort

Her tiny claws reach out to grasp

But fail to save her lower half

From sliding backwards off the side

A chip in her still fragile pride.

Picture of my cat, Kes

Noisy house

A battered toe, a cry of pain

Kes desperate to go out again

A brush makes contact with the wall

A neighbour’s child runs down the hall

A hacking cough comes from next door

Keith’s humming comes up through the floor

The football game on next doors screen

I hear the fans cheer for their team

Domestic woe erupts next door

Threatening to leave his wife once more

The cat is clawing at the rug

Its threads come looser with each tug

I find no peace on my settee

I think the world’s forgotten me


2010 in review


The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2010. That’s about 9 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 32 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 89 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 14mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was June 21st with 99 views. The most popular post that day was Why you should buy Mass Effect 2.


NB from me – I posted this because I liked how the Blog-Health-O-Meter read ‘WOW’. Obviously I think it’s exaggerating considering my blog in comparison to a range of other, far more popular blogs, but it made me feel good anyway. So, thanks for that, WordPress.