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Some of our Yardies attended the brightonSEO conference last month — gathering a range of insights from a variety of topics. We’ve rounded up our favourite presentations and some of the key takeaways from each talk.

Making measurement mean something in digital PR by Jen Gray

Louise Ali – Head of Campaigns

I’ve already written up a piece on some of my personal favourite talks that had a positive impact on my state of mind and gave me actions that I believe will impact mine and my teams’ mental health. However, there were also loads of talks I enjoyed that gave practical advice to help us deliver a higher quality of service to our clients. One that stood out for me was by Jen Gray at the Online PR Fringe Show on setting KPI’s that mean something.

I fear that many of us in the Digital PR world are chasing our tales somewhat when it comes to measuring success. We have different clients valuing different metrics, no guidelines from Google about what makes a link valuable which results in many using number of links and DA/DR as an indication of success — this is not particularly deep and meaningful. Jen presented a process which will enable Digital PRs to focus on traffic and revenue. The formula she shared means we can better forecast the uplift our activity will bring, furthermore, giving clients a tangible number estimating what the likely ROI will be.

I also loved how she advised that we position our KPIs as ‘opportunity size’ rather than committing to a specific percentage increase in additional traffic. I believe that all too often Digital PRs feel the need to prove their worth by committing to unrealistic results — which is, of course, counterproductive. Using language like ‘opportunity’, ‘aims’ and ‘targets’ — although might feel a bit wishy-washy — is more about being able to under promise and over deliver. We can’t control the news-cycle or ASV’s: all of this could change to our advantage or disadvantage for reasons beyond our control.

Also, I’m going to be cheeky and quick shout out to a 2nd speaker: Gemma Flinders, who bombarded us with useful formulas to help us make sense of data for campaigns. Previously the mention of COUNTIF and VLOOKUP would have made me pass out — but she made me believe I can actually do this stuff. I’ll definitely be taking part in the ‘homework’ she set us to put the skills into practice.

Why SEOs Should Love (Not Fear) GA4 by Krista Seiden

Ross Foley – Business Development Rep

There are more irate blog posts on the topic of GA4 than stones on the beach in Brighton (it was my first time in the city, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to build a sandcastle — major disappointment). Many of the concerns listed in those articles are valid — nobody is denying that the transition from UA to GA4 signals teething pains for marketers — but it was genuinely refreshing to hear someone explore the various upsides of Google’s newest analytics tool. In fact, it was novel just to hear someone acknowledge that there are upsides — even if that person, Krista Seiden, spent 6+ years at Google building the very tool her keynote speech was evangelising.  

Krista faced some of the most common GA4 criticisms head-on. For instance, she addressed the old "if it ain't broke" line of thought by reminding the audience that UA is now a decade old (and built on the same code base as Urchin Analytics, which was acquired by Google in 2005) so, even if it ain't broke now, new challenges around privacy regulations and cookie-loss mean it soon will be. She also offered a defence of GA4's new event-based data model, which represents a significant change for digital marketers who're accustomed to an analytics dashboard based on sessions — and if I learned one thing at the conference, it's that attendees at BrightonSEO love a "sesh". 

The central themes of Krista's talk were flexibility and functionality. Does GA4 do everything UA was doing for you intuitively, straight out of the box? No, it doesn't, but if you're patient enough to spend time learning the tool (and wait for a handful of promised — and eagerly awaited — features) the message is: GA4 will provide insights and personalisation options that UA never could. Popular UA features that have been "lost", like bounce rates, can even be backward engineered in GA4 (albeit somewhat clumsily). When Krista explained how, the clacking of keyboards filled the auditorium. There are also reasons for the less-patient to be cheerful from day-one, like free integrations with GTM for all customers (previously available to those with GA360) and, perhaps above all, the merging of web and app data processing in a single platform. 

I'm not sure SEOs are entirely ready to start 'loving' GA4 yet but, after Krista's convincing talk, they've certainly got fewer reasons to fear it. 

How to implement expert comment to make your pitches go further by Surena Chande

Emma Malcolmson – Digital PR & Outreach Executive

Surena is an absolute trailblazer in the comms world, and her BSEO talk proved no different. Having worked on both Digital PR teams and as a journalist, her expertise in pitching is invaluable. She taught Yard's Digital PR team so much that can be applied to both our reactive, quick win and content campaign pitches. Surena reminded us of the value of our client's expert commentary from a journalist's perspective. She highlighted that offering journalists something overly sales-y or something that will not add anything new to the news agenda is simply not the recipe for getting your story picked out of the inbox crowd.

Journalists get dozens of pitches for the same expert commentary requests, and Surena taught us to take a step back and really think about what we're offering the story here: are we telling people something they don't know? Are people going to learn anything from our client's commentary? Is this quote simply promoting a product? The likelihood on the latter is that the journalist will merely cut this part out (that is, given that you offered some of the prior in your commentary).

Surena totally captivated the room of Digital PR practitioners to the edge of their seats. From what my eyes could see (I was standing at the back of the room because her talk was so packed), was hundreds of hands scribbling notes - especially when it came to what journalists look for in pitches. Here's the six key pitch steps I took away:

  1. Include a ‘to-the-point’ intro

  2. The why and how of the story

  3. Key findings and data (even better if you can present them in a table)

  4. Your expert input (i.e., that crucial expert commentary that was at the heart of Surena's talk)

  5. Where the journalist can access any additional assets

  6. Where the journalist should link to. This one was always nice to hear; as Surena put it (not word for word), we're doing the journalist a favour and most of the time, they will for us too. It's always reassuring to hear that, as Digital PRs, we're not going to do ourselves injustices by including this in our pitches!

How to Incorporate ML in your SERP Analysis by Lazarina Stoy

Douglas Sinclair – Senior Technical SEO Consultant

The Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are morphing at an ever-increasing rate as Google is constantly experimenting with new features and understandings of user intent. Using old solutions to analyse this ever-changing SERP, while tried and tested, aren’t efficient or scalable. Lazarina Stoy took one look at this challenge and decided to play Google at their own game. If they can use machine learning to experiment with the SERP, why can’t we as SEOs experiment with machine learning to analyse and understand that same SERP.

Admittedly, machine learning for SEO initially sounded like something I’d need a PhD to even begin to understand. However, in just 20 minutes, Lazarina showed us what tools were already easily accessible and provided multiple examples where following a few straightforward steps produced results that would usually take hours to compile and analyse.

Within the uses were using machine learning for competitor field classification, which allowed her to show which competitor fields dominated a particular SERPs for an effective and actionable competitor analysis. In addition, she used machine learning to compile entity analysis, to review the top mentioned entities within the SERPs for unique products, meaning that we can ensure those entities are covered within our own websites. Furthermore, she showed us how to use machine learning for sentiment analysis to manage brand reputation by analysing brand search SERPs for positive and negative sentiments. Considering the power of brand was our own Rona’s focus for her talk, this scalable process will help us better manage all the brands we work with.

To cover this breadth of discussion in an easily accessible format within 20 minutes was no mean feat. It was a real highlight of brightonSEO for me, and I came away buzzing with ideas and eager to get started on some SEO machine learning ideas of our own.

Journo requests: How to get more out of HARO with less wasted time by Stacey MacNaught

Monika Metodieva – Digital PR & Outreach Executive

Although there were so many insightful talks, Stacey’s was the one I probably learned the most from in terms of practical tips. It was straight to the point and engaging, and I found myself wanting to write every single tip down in my notes.

Using #journorequests is something we do every day in our Digital PR team – it’s a great way to secure coverage and build relationships with journalists. However, sometimes, it can also be a waste of time. Stacey highlighted that the competition, a poor-quality response and being too slow to respond are all causes for wasted time. Her main tips for avoiding that and getting you that coverage were:

1. Have a pre-campaign setup period

She shared that it’s all about being prepared and having a ‘good to go’ folder. We’ve already implemented having a quotes bank of client quotes we keep on file, but she suggested that keeping content in a folder that is already signed off and doesn’t need further approval is crucial when it comes to speed.

2. Interview your clients

Providing a good quality quote from the right expert is crucial for securing coverage from a #journorequest. Getting the client’s professional background, preparing the bio and being really specific will make them stand out from every other expert out there.

3. Prewrite comments to pitch

As we’ve established, it’s all about preparation. Stacey highlighted that having prewritten comments from your clients is vital. One of the best ways to do that is to identify recurring news, like weather-related news or different awareness days, for example. She advised using tools like Response Source or even Google news to spot common themes in the news and also see what other experts have commented to help you shape your own comments.

Creating an inclusive web by Miracle Inameti-Archibong

Greg Martinez – Junior Technical SEO Consultant

It is particularly hard to highlight only one talk from brightonSEO to write about, when there were many speakers that stood out and shared some very insightful knowledge. Even though I picked new ideas for technical implementation around machine learning and automation that will surely benefit some of our clients, I can’t deny I was dragged by the eye-opening area that most of us probably aren’t overseeing as much as it is needed: accessibility.

If Google already reports how accessible a site is through Lighthouse, why shouldn’t we put as much detail on it as well? We think we actually do by following SEO best practices, but as Miracle brilliantly pointed out, it is not enough. Not all accessibility practices are covered within SEO best practices, which doesn’t mean these are not for us to follow. Full of energy and perspicacity, Miracle brought us an inspiring and empathetic (and loud) presentation to show how challenging it is for impaired people to navigate on a site and how to prevent it.

It is nothing new and we might already be implementing fixes such as ALT text, proper heading structures or breadcrumbs that also please user journeys… but what user journeys? The whole point was to make everyone aware of how easily we forget (including myself) about something that really makes a change. So, these are my takeaways of Miracle’s extraordinary presentation:

  • The four pillars of accessibility: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

  • User journey is more important than ever; extra effort is needed to remove any barriers for ALL humans — not just bots — accessing our website.

  • Empathy. It is everyone’s responsibility to make our sites inclusive and usable by anyone.

  • The use of screen readers can help us replicate the perception of impaired people, however, it is not enough. Nobody knows the real difficulties of blindly navigating online, but those that really deal with it. We need to get closer. We need to go further. We can always do better.

Holistic search – developing an organic first strategy by Arpun Kaur Bhuhi

Floran Calvet – Digital Marketer

Arpun delivered a fascinating presentation on developing a holistic, integrated search strategy — highlighting the importance of organic and paid teams working together. Search intent was the overarching topic presented, as Arpun highlighted the importance of understanding customer journeys to create a smooth path between trigger and purchase. There were a number of key takeaways:

1. Meeting intent is the key principle shared between organic and paid channels

A strong holistic strategy secures the buyer journey by dominating the SERPs. The example used throughout involved a search for “M&S bed sheets” which yielded a guide to buying bed sheets. With such strong search intent, companies should look to capitalise this intent by optimising their presence in the SERPs.

2. Establish shared processes across paid and organic

Arpun made it clear that the aim is not to become an expert in the other channels, but rather to understand how each channel currently works together and develop test and learn processes to meet user intent.

3. Develop an opportunity analysis to efficiently split terms between both channels on a keyword level

The three classification terms — based on a variety of factors — are organic bias, paid bias and pass. By allocating each keyword to one of these, we are able to gain an understanding into which terms are mutually beneficial for both teams. A keyword with both organic and paid bias should be targeted, allowing for teams to dominate the SERPs together for this term.

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