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SearchLeeds 2018 – I was like a kid in a sweet shop!

15 June, 2018

This week I attended SearchLeeds 2018 (14 June), the north’s biggest SEO conference hosted at the first direct arena.

The free, one-day search event is, in their words, “designed to attract the leading search marketers in the UK, both from brand and agency side […] for a day of actionable SEO advice and industry-leading content.”

In total, 34 speakers delivered seminars across three stages to over 1,500 delegates. The conference was created by Branded3, an agency that has been designing and building websites since 2003 and optimising sites for search since 2008.

Although the event is now in its third year, this is the first time I’ve made it along, and I must say it was fantastic!! The free event was put on by Branded3, with big sponsors like DeepCrawl, and Search Laboratory, so massive thanks from me for an exceptional programme of speakers.

Key themes from SearchLeeds

Virtually across the entire day, three themes continually resurfaced:

  • Structured data – from schema to rich snippets (something I’ve been talking about for a long time).
  • Conversational language – using natural language to win at channels like voice search and other new areas into which search is moving.
  • Mobile First – the fundamental focus of Mobile First design.

There were lots of talks about topics such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, and some fascinating and exceptional speakers that left me wanting more!

Highlights of SearchLeeds 2018

This event did live up to the hype of showcasing the best of the search sector, and sharing of knowledge, best practice, and perceptive industry insights. I managed to get around a number of the presentations, so these are my top highlights:

Silos in Organisational Teams

The first talk I attended was by J Schwan at the St Ives Group. As Chief Digital Officer, Schwan has an interest in the topic of strategic working and focussed his seminar on the fundamental issue that ‘the future doesn’t exist in silos.’ He noted that this is a problem that exists in many organisations: teams work in silos using different KPIs for different divisions. He pointed towards a “brave new world” that should be non-linear and provide a Connected Consumer Experience (CCX), and so is all about a fundamental “connectedness.”

Intelligent Search and Intelligent Assistants

Next, I attended a talk by Purna Virji of Microsoft on the topic of exploring the Artificial-Intelligence (AI) era of search. The conversation centred on what “truly intelligent” AI is and how tech can perceive, learn and reason. There were strands around human replacement and augmented reality, and then an thought-provoking segment on ‘in-market audience marketing’ and the Microsoft Audience Network, an AI-powered audience marketing service. It concluded with a broader conversation about audience marketing in general as the next big thing digital agencies need to consider for their clients.

Product Listing Ads (PLAs)

This interesting seminar was hosted by Hannah McKie, Head of Pay-Per-Click at Missguided Ltd, an online women’s fashion brand. She stated that whether you’re a small or large company, you have to start somewhere and so spent time on the topic of PLAs, noting the importance of Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) and the need to “make friends with your data feed.”


Structured Data

Speaker Filie Wiese of Search Brothers talked heavily about structured data and technical Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), but the exciting thing for me was that he spoke of schema you can use on email campaigns. This is something I hadn’t really thought about and now realise should absolutely be considered, especially in relation to Gmail.

Entity Search

Kristine Schachinger from Sites Without Walls was the next speaker I saw. She said that unstructured data is now becoming old hat, with Google moving towards Entity Search. Now the focus is shifting to JavaScript Object Notation or JSON (a language-independent data format) instead of HTML to get Google to “like you.”

Machine Learning and Information Retrieval

Dawn Anderson of Move It Digital Marketing Solutions was the host of my next seminar. Her presentation concentrated on the topic of machine learning, information retrieval, and the belief that the future of SEO is about assistive systems. She believed that push-information retrieval would become more and more about providing information before a user has even requested it. For example, a device may tell you to remember an umbrella without you asking, given its retrieval of weather forecast information. The focus was on assistive systems and the need to optimise for this inevitable development.

The Mobile First Index

Jon Myers of DeepCrawl then went through some of the pros and cons of Responsive Vs Dynamic websites (with Responsive winning in my opinion!). He stressed that businesses not doing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are missing out. AMP is “an open-source project aimed at allowing mobile website content to render nearly instantly, an initiative that has Google as a sponsor, but it is not a program owned by Google.” Myers also advised that businesses should be considering Progressive Web Apps (PWA), something he believes to be the future.

Will Robots Destroy Us All?!

This seminar by Kristal Ireland of Virgin East Coast Trains was really fascinating. She believes there is a need to put the ethical debate back into the narrative about the future of AI. In her opinion, while it’s great, and she wants it to happen – for example being able to walk straight onto a train using facial recognition for ticketing – there needs to be consideration of the enormous social responsibility, logistical work required in advance, and the potential impact on lower-skilled jobs.

Storytelling for Retailers

Jasper Bell of AmazeRealise then delivered a great talk on how retailers and brands need to focus on stories, and how there’s a new industry growing in D2C (Digital to Consumer), content and services promoted directly by the provider to the phone end-user. The agency is already doing it well, and Bell used the example of Grabble – a sort of tinder for fashion!

He made me laugh with this tweet showing amazon’s AI getting it wrong!

Advanced Integrated Influence Strategy

Last but not least was the talk by Lexi Mills of Shift6. This seminar was, without doubt, the highlight of my day! She was an unbelievable speaker and focussed on AI and Machine Learning. Apparently, AI now directs 50% of all content with the big publishers! She concluded the talk with the concept of the emotionally-intelligent search and said that in her opinion there was no reason why the likes of, say, FitBit shouldn’t become connected to Google to understand emotional levels and ensure that any results given match that emotional level – a really fascinating concept.

So all in all, I was like a kid in a sweet shop talking SEO all day! I really can’t wait to come back next year.

Watch out for my future blogs where I’ll be going into many of these absorbing topics in greater depth.

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