SEO is no longer a discipline, it’s a skillset

Brighton SEO - registration

Tickets selling out in four minutes, a mile-long queue outside the venue, over 1,700 attendees; you would have thought a West End Musical or international musician was visiting Brighton. No, this is Brighton SEO and over the last five years it has moved from an attic room in a pub that fit 30, to the Brighton Dome.

Last Friday I attended Brighton SEO to hear from top search engine optimisation specialists and digital marketers from around the world. I can’t write about the key takeaways from the event without first mentioning how friendly everyone was.

Brighton SEO queue

Before I even made it inside the venue I struck a conversation with a web design agency from Reading. In that conversation I released that my knowledge of PR was just as sacred as the in-depth SEO insight I was seeking. It highlighted that for modern PR to be successful an intermediate knowledge of SEO is required.

Brighton SEO - registration

As the founder of Brighton SEO, Kelvin Newman, mentioned to The Register:

Newman believes SEO has gone mainstream. “It used to be a discipline but now it’s a skillset,” he said. “A lot of people don’t only do SEO. They’re doing many other things as well.”

When working as a digital specialist it’s important to respect the breadth and variety of skills required in the digital industry. As a near-generalist, I can cover most subject areas, but this enforces the need for me to learn from the true experts at times. That is why I attended Brighton SEO and wow, I didn’t leave disappointed.

Brighton SEO Kelvin Newman

After 9 hours of talks and SEO conversations, I left Brighton not tired but buzzing! On my desk sits a mountain of reading, notes and ideas. I’ve wanted to attend Brighton SEO for the last three years and now that it’s happened, I just want to go back.

My mind is still recovering, and whilst I chew through the information shared, here are some of the top resources shared at the talks I attended. Word of advice: if you want to cover all the talks at Brighton SEO then you will need three or four people – it’s that big and busy.

Three must-read resources from Brighton SEO

How to fix any SEO problem by Jon Earnshaw

This had to be one of the best presentations I attended because it provided a practical insight into troubleshooting an SEO problem. Jon transparently covered how he fixed an issue Waterstones was having with Google UK when a number of its links were being replaced by the competition. He has kindly provided the full presentation on SlideShare.

Ranking-Factors reloaded – Why content is key to success by Marcus Tober

This Star Wars themed presentation hooked the audience immediately and provided a data-led insight into Google ranking factors. The best bits have to be the industry-specific research and the difference this makes to online user journeys, how modern content is being viewed online, and rethinking link strategies. This clever guy has also hidden his presentation behind a data capture form – fill in your details and download here.

Introduction to personal branding by Mel Carson

I’ve frequently expressed my disbelief at how so many people who work in PR or digital marketing don’t bother maintaining their own online brand presence. This was a lesson I learnt years ago at university when maintaining an active online presence allowed me to get my foot in the door for digital roles in London. After eight years of writing about digital, I’m still personally reaping the benefits of maintaining an online presence.

Brighton SEO Mel Carson

Mel’s talk provided straightforward advice about why a personal brand is important and how to do it. His book for 99p on Amazon is worth buying if you’re starting out.

 

The above is just a tiny snapshot of the talks I attended at Brighton SEO and over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing more. Keep your eyes on the Lansons blog as I’ll be writing a financial services specific post in the next couple of days.

UK Blogger Survey 2016: It’s all about fashion and poor PR pitches

It’s all about lipstick, dresses, and fancy underwear when it comes to the UK blogging community. This is one conclusion that can be drawn from the biggest ever survey of UK bloggers, conducted by communications software company Vuelio, in conjunction with Canterbury Christ Church University.

The survey of more than 500 UK bloggers found that over three quarters were female and that they tended to concentrate on traditionally female interests such as beauty and fashion. Blogs written by men covered a broader range of topics, ranging from stereotypically male pursuits such as sports and gaming to traditionally gender-neutral areas such as food (there are twice as many male food bloggers as female), and health.

MaleandFemalebloggers

Those interests were further reflected in the social media UK bloggers use to promote their sites. While Twitter was ubiquitous for both genders, female bloggers were much more likely than their male counterparts to be found on Pinterest and Instagram, while men were twice as likely as women to use LinkedIn and, perhaps surprisingly, more frequent users of Facebook.

Although a third of respondents described blogging as a hobby, more than a third said they blogged either professionally or with a view to commercialising their efforts in future.  Most said that, while they had good relationships with PRs and brand managers, they often felt second-class when compared with journalists working in traditional media.

How should brands work with bloggers?

This is the big questions for PR practitioners taking their skills beyond media relations to engage with blogging communities instead. Being a blogger myself, I contributed to these survey results and could understand some of the frustrations bloggers have with PR pitches.

PRpitches

Some are atrociously bad, often without regard of what the blogger gets in return; especially in terms of the value of content, bloggers are not second-class to journalists. The results revealed that more than two-thirds of bloggers agreed that they were all-too-often asked to support brands for very little in return.

“It’s clear from the number of pitches our respondents said they received that PRs and brand managers recognise the enormous potential of UK bloggers,” said Kristine Pole, programme director at Canterbury Christ Church University and co-author of the research. “But there also seems to be a fundamental disconnect, when you look at the efforts PRs are putting in compared with what they’re getting out, and the often mismatched expectations of each side.”

Almost two fifths of respondents received six or more pitches from brands every week – but only 30 per cent of bloggers said that more than one post a week was the result of brands coming to them.

“When you think about the subjects that occupy the majority of UK bloggers, such as fashion and beauty, and then look at the enormous audiences for their sites, and finally consider the extent to which traditional media relies on PR in these areas, it’s hard to see anything other than a huge opportunity,” said Vuelio’s Head of Content, Chris Wheeler. “The bloggers want to make the effort to improve their relationships with brands.  If brands can better understand bloggers’ expectations of these relationships, it has to be a win-win.”

If you work with bloggers or are tempted to start, I highly recommend you download the full UK Blogger Survey 2016 here.

Facebook reveals 10-year plan to take over the world

Mark F8 3 2016

Social virtual reality, a 360-degree camera, and chat bots in case human conversation becomes mundane. These were some of the announcements from Facebook’s (almost) annual developer conference called Facebook F8, named after the company’s tradition to hold eight hour hackathons.

When CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s 10-year plan was to “Give everyone the power to share anything with everyone”, the small print must have read ‘but only if you advertise’. The plans are ambitious, many projects far beyond the remit of a social networking site, but then Facebook isn’t your average social network; their plans to serve Facebook internet via solar-powered drone showed that.

Facebook roadmap

Numerous reputable news sites have dedicated column inches to Facebook’s big announcements. I personally recommend you visit The Guardian and Time for a quick read of the main events. This blog post looks behind the headlines to see what Facebook F8 may mean in the immediate future for internet-savvy organisations.

Balancing money and social experience

From a social engineering perspective, it could be said that Facebook has become a victim of its own success as the sheer volume of content means that organic (non paid-for) reach is in decline. This means increased competition among friends and brand pages for newsfeed coverage as on average 1,500 new posts could appear each time you log into Facebook. So Facebook’s algorithms attempt to show more high-quality content and from connections who you value the most. Remember that old school friend? Probably not, because Facebook has decided you won’t find value in their content.

The more sceptical side of the organic reach-gate debate would say the newsfeed algorithms have primarily been put in place to enhance Facebook Advertising. This would be cynical and entirely true. Whilst Facebook have denied the drop in organic reach is to fuel their advertising network, there is no doubt that this has been the effect of their decision. Facebook is fundamentally an advertising network and brands must be prepared to invest heavily in paid-for activities in the hope to get noticed.

“Our goal is always to provide the best experience for the people that use Facebook. We believe that delivering the best experiences for people also benefits the businesses that use Facebook. If people are more active and engaged with stories that appear in News Feed, they are also more likely to be active and engaged with content from businesses.” – Brian Boland, leader of the Ads Product Marketing team at Facebook.

The latest in-depth analysis of Facebook’s stock price is optimistic, showing the global active user base to be a whopping 1.4 billion people and their plan to reach users outside of the U.S and Europe is working. This is partly a self-serving prophecy due to the natural stock dip before Facebook F8 and it’s no secret that future cash will come from online advertising. To be precise, increased mobile revenues that will be driven by Instagram and WhatsApp, this is also linked to Facebook’s intent to monetise chat bots (we’ll come onto this later).

The latest in-depth analysis of Facebook’s stock price is optimistic, showing the global active user base to be a whopping 1.4 billion people and their plan to reach users outside of the U.S and Europe is working. This is partly a self-serving prophecy due to the expected stock dip before Facebook F8 and it’s no secret that future cash will come from online advertising. To be precise, increased mobile revenues that will be driven by Instagram and WhatsApp, this is also linked to Facebook’s intent to monetise chat bots (we’ll come onto this later).

The question that hasn’t been asked by the mainstream media when analysing Facebook F8 is “What does the future of online advertising look like?”. This is an article for another day but with expectations that online advertising networks may soon have to ask users for their consent before targeting them with Ads, and questions being raised around the fairness of advertising networks using individual people’s mobile data to target them with useless advertising, Facebook’s 10-year plan may have a bumpy ride.

Meeting shareholder expectations and to continue serving the world’s largest active online user base will be tricky.

Monetising conversations

As a past employee at Microsoft I witnessed the sadness first-hand when Microsoft Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) was laid to rest. The chat programme, alongside Internet Relay Chat (IRC), were my two-ways of communicating in the post-Facebook world. The launch of Facebook Chat in 2008 had a buggy reception but quickly began eating market share from Microsoft, wounding the giant as advertising revenues fell.

It’s widely accepted that if online advertising continues to grow, then it will need to become smarter than banner ads to gain the attention of users. Especially as the use of ad-blocking solutions soar, with Opera browser saying it will build the feature into their next release. This has made “native advertising” a hot topic, but embedded videos and sponsored articles can still become a nuisance and even misleading for user-experience. Only last week did I read a glowing review of the newly release game Quantum Break to find it was actually sponsored by Microsoft – talk about editorial independence! I won’t get those 10 minutes of my life back.

Chat bots aren’t new to the world, it’s essentially what Google Voice and Siri attempt to do with varying success. However, the ability for Facebook to provide a service where organisations and publishers can utilise chat bots to service their own businesses is new. In fact, you could almost call it revolutionary as it provides businesses a new way to service customers. Examples provided at Facebook F8 showed how the service could be effectively used with Uber and KLM to book services.

How long will it be for a financial services company to offer automated advice to customers? Could a chat bot begin showing signs of artificial intelligence as it trains from conversations you are having with it? Facebook’s chat bot announcement has huge opportunities, not least for monetising WhatsApp in a new way. How could your organisation utilise a chat bot?

Let’s hope that the chat bot future doesn’t go the same way as Microsoft’s Tay, Microsoft’s Twitter bot who quickly became “… a Hitler-loving sex robot”.

Microsoft Tay Hitler

360 Video and Virtual Reality (VR)

Currently the fastest watched video on Facebook is the title sequence for TV show, Game of Thrones. Why? It’s been given a 360 video makeover allowing viewers to look around Westeros and Essos. Have a play; it includes clues for Season 6.

360 video is a new way to share real-world experience and it really is immersive, especially if you match it up with a VR headset. If you have a spare £21,000 you should pop out and buy Facebook’s new 360 video camera, Surround 360, offering 3D and easy 360 video creation that can be uploaded to Facebook. It’s a publisher tool that may begin justifying its price if 360 video becomes the gold standard for video creation, rather than a fad.

As competition in the Facebook newsfeed intensifies utilising new features such as 360 video may give organisations a chance to standout. This is another level of storytelling that is really only for organisations who can afford the price tag, but as with all technologies, we can’t be far away from 360 video becoming a mainstream way of sharing social experiences. The lovely people at Pocket Lint have shared a list of cameras currently offering a 360 view of the world; watch these prices over the next year or two.

 Instant Articles

By far the biggest announcement for publishers and a sign that Mark Zuckerberg is now seriously taking on News UK, Instant Articles is now open for all publishers (even my little blog). Instant Articles are a way for publishers to host their articles directly into Facebook when they hit publish, giving readers a cleaner experience as they don’t have to wait for an external website to load. For publishers this means that they can benefit from an article receiving the traffic from their own website and the reach from Facebook (with a massive caveat around advertising). However, this does also mean Facebook ends up hosting some of the most valuable written content from around the world – potentially devastating for publishers’ own advertising efforts.

Facebook Instant Articles

This announcement was technically made before Facebook F8 but has still managed to continue making the headlines. Increased engagement is claimed and of course, the ability to add in a spot of branded content. Over a 1,000 publishers have joined up and this number will inevitably only go up as Facebook have smartly offered an easy WordPress integration.

What else?

Many more features were announced at Facebook F8, but the ones explored in this article feel the most valuable for me in the immediate future. Facebook’s 10-year roadmap is ambitious and we remain to see if some of their innovative announcements can be monetised in time by pioneering businesses to make the investments worthwhile. Other announcements such as 360-video and improving video quality are safe bets, social virtual reality is fun but currently experimental.

We should all keep our eyes on Facebook’s mysterious building 8 led by Regina Dugan, former Director of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), just to make sure Skynet remains fantasy.

UK companies struggle to manage their reputation in their home market

Reputation Institute, ranking

UK companies are struggling to manage their reputation on their home turf. This is according to a new report published by the Reputation Institute today that is based on more than 50,000 ratings collected in the first quarter of 2016 from members of the UK general public.

The Reputation Institute mix academic vigor with a real-world understanding to measure a company’s ability to deliver on stakeholder expectations based on the seven key rational dimensions of reputation: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and performance.

This enables them to rank on a score from 0 – 100, based on overall reputation and grouped into categories:

  • Excellent (80+)
  • Strong (70-79)
  • Average (60-69)
  • Weak (40-59)
  • Poor (Below 40)

This has revealed UK Plcs are losing out on reputation in their home market. Only two of the top 10 companies are UK Plcs, and international companies dominate the top 50. Home-domiciled companies make up just 26% of the top 50 and 41% of the top 150.

As shown below, only four UK companies have been able to build an “Excellent” reputation with a RepTrak® score above 80.

5. Rolls Royce Aerospace (82.6)
6. Aston Martin (82.1)
13. ASOS (80.4)
14. Jaguar Land Rover (80.4)

At the other end of the scale, of the 27 companies who scored “Poor” and sit well outside of the RepTrak® 150 (ranking 251 and below), all but two are UK and Irish companies.

UK companies ranked “Poor” include five utilities and financial services companies, three transport companies, and two gambling and telecom companies. Although it might be unsurprising that UK companies from these sectors perform the worst, there are notable exceptions.

Nationwide Building Society was the top scoring of all UK retail banks, with a “Strong” score of 72.4. O2 also rated strongly in the eyes of the UK general public at 74.9, whereas all other UK telecoms providers failed to score higher than an “Average” performance of 64.

Biggest moves

The following companies have seen the largest improvements from 2015 to 2016:

58. Airbus Group (+12.6 points)
228. HSBC (+9.8 points)
9. Aldi (+9.7 points)
48. Burberry (+9.7 points)
140. Hershey Company (+8.9 points)

The below businesses have seen the largest declines from 2015 to 2016:

267. Volkswagen (-27.4 points)
192. SABMiller (7.9 points)
156. Nestle (-7.7 points)
163. Admiral (-7.3 points)
247. EDF Energy (-7.1 points)

Unsurprisingly, Volkswagen AG falls from having a top 10 reputation (ranked 8th) in 2015 to a vulnerable position in 2016 (ranked 267th) following the high-profile emissions scandal.  The critical factor in this loss of reputation has been a huge drop in the number of consumers willing to support the company in specific circumstances, as shown below.

Recommend company Buy products Give benefit of doubt
2016 24% 28% 20%
2015 56% 58% 53%

Recommendation and trust of Volkswagen AG has decreased by more than half during this time, which underscores the impact that corporate reputation has on the business.

 Why reputation matters

Reputation Institute’s research reveals that reputation drives business results. The better the reputation, the more support a company gets. For companies with an average reputation, only 12% would definitely buy the products; this climbs to 28% if the reputation is strong, but increases to 76% if the reputation is excellent.

“The impact from reputation on the business is massive, which is why the leading companies in the world are managing this asset in a systematic way,” says Nielsen.

In the UK, consumers must consider companies’ reputations “Excellent” in order to have more than 50% of those surveyed claim that they would say something positive about a company, recommend its products, trust it to do the right thing, welcome it into the local community, and work for or invest in it.

Reputation Institute, ranking

The Lego Group, IKEA and BMW Group top the UK RepTrak® 150 ranking of the most reputable companies among the UK general public, Reputation Institute announced today, based on more than 50,000 ratings collected in the first quarter of 2016 from members of the UK general public.

 

Disclaimer: I work with the Reputation Institute at Lansons but I had full editorial independence when writing this article.

11 Views From The Thames That Show London At Its Best

River Thames, Slow down men at work

I became a tourist in London last weekend. Travelling on a boat from Westminster to Greenwich, curving around the Thames and seeing bits of the city move from left to right; it was a breath of fresh air compared to train commutes.

The waterways of London are a welcome reprieve from the gridlocked roads, offering a peace that only seems to be emitted from water. I never knew London could be relaxing and the boat crew spoke with each other as members of a close community, calmly making their way across the water beating the rush of traffic on land.

As I work in London the city has always been part of my professional identity, in my spare time I prefer to escape to greener lands. Last weekend was different though and I attempt to show that through my pictures below.

Feel free to share and download, click the images to see their full size.

River Thames, Slow down men at work

Please slow down, men at work!

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge with the Shard in view

The Shard

The Shard… obviously

The Grapes pub, London

The Grapes pub.

The remains of the old bridge in London

The remains of the old bridge.

Tower of London

Tower of London with the traitor’s gate.

London City

London City

Speedboat on the Thames

Speed!

The Financial Times

The Financial Times offices

Westminster

From this angle all looks calm, but on the green a protest was taking place

The London Eye

The London Eye, as seen moored at Westminster Pier

The biggest challenge is keeping up with the news

Stacked newspapers

There has been a lot of research over the last couple of years to recognise the shift between a media relations based model of working, to instead becoming a crucial part of management consultancy. It’s a never-ending quest of self-improvement and ambition.

When it comes to analysing the PR workflow three projects come to mind:

  • The PRstack project saw PR professionals put their commercial interests behind them to crowdsource several published books and categorise 250+ third party tools. In my opinion this is primarily a tools based project, rather than a cultural challenge initiative. I even joined in;
  • The ambitious #FuturePRoof project that gained momentum from #PRstack to start the biggest conversation about the future of PR;
  • The tireless work by PR software designer Frederik Vincx to outline how to improve the workflow of your PR team. His neat infographic provides an outline of how to improve your workflow as a PR team.

These are valuable public initiatives of rethinking the future of PR, which I use to help inform practical consultancy and client approaches. Beyond public thought-leadership lurks a world of multiple PR consultancies that are working towards one common goal; staying relevant in an industry thwart by digital change.

It’s recognised that there are many aspects PR needs to improve on, particularly measurement and paid-for activities (such as social advertising). I believe one of the biggest barriers to successful PR is a basic one: the challenge of learning in a busy “always on” industry. If you work as a digital specialist for a large organisation then the only thing holier than your “hipster jeans” is your knowledge (I wear a suit…).

In reality, most challenges in the PR industry are only going to be solved outside of billable time – unless recognised to have a significant business value to warrant fast internal investment. Creating a PR workflow for learning is about recognising the importance of learning as a team, its impact on providing consultancy, and then finding a routine.

Really all members of a PR team should be spending at least an hour reading every day, otherwise how will your consultancy be up to scratch? So forget complicated organisational changes, start by reading first.

Don’t lose yourself in social media

Commuting

A genuine blog is more than sharing formal articles, it’s an uncomfortable gaze into the life of its author. Personal posts are usually the easiest to write as the words flow but the hardest to publish. The words below formed in my mind whilst travelling home late last week. It describes the struggle of balancing social media with more “fulsome” activities such as reading in-depth articles, books or digesting podcasts.

Sometimes it’s easy to be caught in the trap of updating social media for no purpose at all, always waiting for that next update. Balancing this personal relationship with social media whilst following online at a senior career level… well, it requires a degree of self-discipline. Some online professionals choose to almost completely disconnect themselves from social media in their personal time; I don’t, I can’t understand how you can or would want to.

Online has formed part of my identity, a real and virtual life. What you see is what you get. You may be able to relate to the words below, or not. In truth? I don’t mind, it provides a snapshot of the journey I find myself on.

Don’t lose yourself in social media, balance it with life.

***

Stop what you’re doing. Just think.

Endlessly scrolling down your Facebook feed to find that little explosion of ‘social’ endorphin is a drug that will get you nowhere.

Do you even remember life before Facebook and social media? Really, how long has it been now? Over 10 years, thousands of status updates and online interactions later.

Friends have come and gone. Life has fundamentally changed socially and politically. Passions lurk as embers waiting for ignition but are threatened to be extinguished by the power of that ever-scrolling news feed. Benighted conundrum, the mind has a tantrum, social media continues to be updated, life flashes before your eyes – it’s come and gone.

Meanwhile the drum continues to beat, online has become a U.S. monopoly and a commercial feat. Where is this going? From the humble beginnings of Miniclip to building grassroots online communities. We used to build our villages but now they have become faceless cities. Pawns locked into a game of cat and mouse; our personal lives fuel transatlantic riches and the cat purrs.

This used to be the game, the escape and it’s now the king. What do you think the balance looks like? Face in the looking glass and life is beginning to look a lot older. Millions of keystrokes later, trading information for social kicks. How is this world set to grow? Will it swallow all or will a balance be found?

Am I alone? Is this addiction? Does any of this matter?

Before you pick up your smartphone, think. What has changed?