The Most Important Things We Learned from SearchLeeds 2018

For those unfamiliar, SearchLeeds is the North’s largest search marketing conference. The event’s remit covers everything from technical SEO to paid media, through to content marketing and digital PR – with a focus on actionable advice practitioners can put to work in their day-to-day roles.

Making a bleary-eyed early morning pilgrimage slightly further north, delegates from our Content Marketing and SEO teams descended on Leeds’ First Direct Arena for the event’s third iteration – ready to absorb insights from some of the industry’s best and brightest, which we can share for you here.

So, here they are: five interesting and actionable nuggets of digital marketing knowledge, packaged up for your reading pleasure.

searchleeds content marketing takeaways

Content Marketing Takeaways

While SearchLeeds featured a fantastic line-up of speakers across numerous digital marketing disciplines, the majority of our takeaways revolve around that elusive and ever-shifting campaign goal: link acquisition.

At Banc, we take a full-mix approach to content marketing, mapping activity to each stage of the user lifecycle using the RACE framework. This enables us to ensure that our content strategies are delivering value against a business’ prioritised objectives.

That said, in the early stages of a campaign, generating qualified organic traffic is usually the critical KPI. And despite the industry changes that have taken place over the last couple of years, securing relevant inbound links from high-authority sites remains one of the most reliable and consistent ways of raising your website’s visibility in the eyes of search engines.

Securing such links requires creativity, patience, persistence and dare we say, a bit of cunning – meaning that sage advice and insights are invaluable.

The majority of learnings below are from two sessions: Kirsty Hulse’s talk Content Marketing Tips That Won’t Break the Bank (Or Your Spirit), and Hannah Smith’s talk What Happens Where a Werewolf Bites a Goldfish?. Let’s dive in…

creating brand stories for seo

Don’t Be Afraid of Brand Stories

As content marketers, we’re conditioned to focus only on that which meets the needs of our target audience(s), whether that’s to educate, entertain or inspire. We often do away with anything that could be construed as too ‘commercial’, with the fear that it won’t be linked to or shared.

What this means is that a  business’ ‘brand’ can often taken something of a back seat – but should this always be the case?

If you’re reading this article, you probably remember the Greggs Valentine’s Day PR campaign from earlier this year. The story – that Greggs was offering a dine-in set menu for thrifty valentines – was covered by nearly every major publisher, from The Independent to Gizmodo. We see these kinds of gimmicky stunts every year; journalists love them because of their light-hearted, universal appeal, and ability to pique our curiosity.

However, the reason this worked so well for Greggs was that offering a sit-down meal was a perfect polarisation of their brand message (affordable, on-the-go convenience food that’s ubiquitous). It was the last thing people expected from Greggs, so naturally people were interested in sharing it.

And many of the high-authority sites that shared the story did link… to the promotion’s landing page on OpenTable. Greggs, having a non-transactional site, were likely happy to simply have the coverage – but had they created their own booking page on their domain, they would have benefitted from a large number of high-authority links, too. (The lesson here is to think carefully about where you want links to point.)

These kinds of rich brand stories can have incredible results for your SEO efforts, if executed the right way. So perhaps they’re something we should be thinking about more when it comes to outreaching projects.

media coverage trade press

Target the Trade Media First

If your campaign is within a specific niche or industry, that’s good news, as there’s likely to be built-in press with an existing investment and interest in the subject areas you’re creating content around.

This means that the trade media should be your first port of call when it comes to outreach. The fact that they’re already interested will make them more likely to pick up your content. Not only that, but mainstream journalists covering specific beats (who can prove difficult to identify and contact) will trust and look to industry press when sourcing news, features and editorial themes.

The takeaway here is that getting your content covered and shared across specialist interest and trade sites increases the chance of it getting picked up by large, high-authority sites.

There’s Value in Coverage, Even Without a Link

So, you’re promoting your content – you’ve had a few mentions and some social sharing, but no-one has linked. It can be frustrating and demoralising, especially when you’ve put in so much effort at the planning, creation and distribution stages.

However, instead of treating these modicums of success as could-have-beens, it’s important to understand that every campaign has a ‘tipping point’.

Often, just one piece of top-tier coverage of your content can be enough to get things going. If your outreach piece is covered in a well-trafficked, high-authority site but they don’t link, then fret not – as it will be probably get picked up elsewhere and those sites might link (and so on).interactive content tools

Create Interactive, Engaging Content at Scale

Creating high-quality, engaging content that users will find valuable and share means first-rate research, ideation and copywriting. But it also means presenting your information in a compelling and engaging way that will cut through the noise.

A couple of years ago, adding interactivity and engaging elements to your site content probably would have meant creating your own bespoke solution from scratch. However, thanks to the proliferation of off-the-shelf tools now available, it’s possible to create rich content quickly and easily.

With that in mind, time for a quick lightning round. Here is a selection of out-the-box tools for creating more interactive and engaging content, comprised of both Banc favourites and those recommended by various speakers at SearchLeeds (all of which are cheap, free, or have significant free functionality):

  • StoryMap.JSA brilliant tool for creating interactive, annotated maps which can incorporate images, text and video (particularly useful for travel content).
  • Timeline.JS – A quick and easy way to create interactive timelines, which can be embedded via HTML. Fun to use and perfect for helping to make sequential stories as immersive as possible.
  • Slides – As you’d guess, Slides is a solution for creating beautiful slideshow-style content. As powerful for product landing pages as it is for interactive storytelling.
  • WP-Bakery – A fantastic plug-in for WordPress that offers a selection of content elements, giving you greater flexibility with how your page content looks. Not only that, there are a number of additional add-ons which offer even more options.
  • PlayBuzz – A suite of options for making fun, highly shareable Buzzfeed-style content – includes functionality for polls, quizzes, text conversations, etc.
  • Genially Another useful selection of content options, this time with a strong visual focus. Can be used to create creative presentations and animations, and we love its interactive image function.

content outreach pitching tips

When It Comes to Outreach, Be Pragmatic

It can be disheartening when there’s no response to a big round of content outreach you’ve carefully researched and executed. It’s all too easy to give up and move on to the next idea, but before scrapping things, consider what you know and what you don’t.

You don’t know whether the idea is poor. You also don’t know whether the execution is poor. But what you can safely assume is that your pitch is not compelling enough.

Instead of discarding the outreach project and moving on to the next thing, try revisiting your angle and making sure that the information you’re pushing out to media is easy to digest and understand. Add context and contrast to the information, and give journalists a story and angle that they’ll want to write about.

When it comes to offsite outreach pieces, try and understand different media verticals and lead with the information that each will find most appealing.

Make every effort to understand the media landscape – embed yourself in it and understand what journalists want to write about. Let that be the place from which your ideas are guided, and reverse-engineer your pitches from that point, too.

seo learnings searchleeds 2018

Technical SEO Takeaways

As one of an increasing number of content marketing interlopers at search conferences, it would be rude to round off without including a smattering of technical SEO insights.

Here’s Charlie Whitworth, Banc’s SEO Director and regular face on the conference circuit, with his highlights:

“We thoroughly enjoyed our day at SearchLeeds, which is quickly becoming one of our favourite search events here at Banc. Fili Weise’s session on structured data was fascinating as always and we have already got to work cleaning up our entities following that session!

“What was most interesting to hear was everyone’s thoughts on machine learning, AI and voice search. This was something the industry seemed to be approaching with a certain amount of trepidation a few years ago, but that all seems to have changed and everyone seems well prepared.

“We are already looking forward to next year’s event as they seem to be getting better every time. Definitely up there as one of the best when it comes to actionable SEO insight!”

We hope you find these essential takeaways from SearchLeeds as useful and insightful as we did. Be sure to check back with the Banc blog soon for more of the latest industry news and features, or head to our homepage to get in touch today.