ThinkVisibility, on the 4th September 2010 popped my SEO conference cherry, and I was far from disappointed with its all round performance.

A warm welcome...

With a compelling line up of speakers, the promise of some fun times in a casino venue (great choice BTW), anunarguably very reasonable price tag (£119) and after some online haranguing by Carla Marshall of Sorbet Digital telling me I’d be an idiot to miss it, I found myself having booked a train Leeds, and two nights in a swanky (by my standards) hotel. Herefollows my ThinkVisibility key takeaways (or thinly disguised ramblings, if you’re feeling less than generous).

Average age 3? hmmm

After a brief intro from the ebullient Dom (“The Hodge”) Hodgson, Mel Carson woke everyone up with some photos of firm buttocks. Which was nice. Aside from illustrating his penchant for glutes he was talking about ‘Learning and earning through social media’, which he summed up with seven ‘value indicators’:

  1. Measure growth and translate as ‘reach’.
  2. Understand and calculate how your social media use is lowering costs (e.g. by providing a customer service channel).
  3. Informing and empowering the customer online through social media leads to increased spend.
  4. Internal education leads to external evangelism (i.e. make sure your own staff understand your utilisation of social media channels).
  5. earned media’ – the Microsoft advertising blog when covering the Windows 7 launch got 221 MILLION impressions.
  6. Think social media marketing – be disciplined (i.e. social media as a marketing exercise as part of a strategy to meet objectives).
  7. What’s the return on ‘in action’ (Mel’s own version of ROI…more on ROI later, and close your ears if you don’t want to hear kittens screaming). The question is not ‘can I afford to get involved in social media’, but ‘can I afford NOT to?’ While you’re thinking about it, your competitors will be all over social media like a rash.

Next up was Rob Kerry of Ayima, going through some useful pointers on ‘going international with SEO’. I tried to live tweet the session so my notes are abit sketchy…

  • Buy your company name/domain name with as many ccTLDs as you can – running the country specific version of your site on the ccTLD has its plus points in that Google automatically knows which country you’re targeting and searchers perceive your site as being local. The downside is that this can be expensive (and also that you can’t get a ccTLD in some countries unless you are resident/from that country?) and requires a separate link building campaign for each domain.
  • Hosting country specific content on a subdomain is good in that it’s cheaper than buying and managing multiple ccTLDs, but bad in the sense that subdomains are pretty much treated as separate domains by Google and don’t inherit the trust and authority of the root domain.

    Dom, erm...Dom, and me. Surreal.

  • Rob is pretty much a fan of using subfolders to host the country specific content (country specific rather than language specific – content for Spanish speakers in Spain should be very different from that for Spanish speakers in South America). This works for Google, not for other search engines.
  • If you’ve bought the ccTLDs and you are using the subfolder approach, canonical tag them back to the appropriate subfolders.
  • Use Google’s webmaster tools to set the location that you’re targeting with specific subfolders (Rob mentions that there can still be bugs in this approach – if it goes tits up let Google know. NB Presumably this is easier if you have a little ‘fwend’ at Google).
  • A downside of the subfolder approach is that a dot com with a country specific subfolder will get a lower click through rate in the SERPS than a site with a ccTLD (Rob says this is particularly prevalent in France – est ce que c’est vrai?)
  • Where you host is less important than it used to be, and is definitely less important than your ccTLD
  • Invest in good, relevant content written by writers with good local knowledge, Rob recommends for reasonable rates

Rob’s gunfire quick delivery leaves plenty of time for Q&A, of which there are many. Someone asks ‘how important is garnering local links pointing into those pages for ranking those subfolder pages in their targeted countries?’ Rob thinks that there’s not that much added benefit in having links from that country pointing to the subfolder, and that it’s more important that the content and links ON the page are geo-relevent.

Someone asks ‘I have a dot com, if I change my geotarget in GWMT to the US, will I lose my UK rankings’? Robs says that your main root domain should always target your most important market – if your key market is the UK and you have a dot com and want to target internationally keep the dot com as the UK and create a subfolder for the US.

Dave Naylor asked a question re. geo-specific keyword rich anchor text in the footer of the pages, and Rob gave the first (of many) warnings regarding possible penalties associated with over optimisation of anchor text in links.

So – some international nuggets of wisdom there – but was sorry to miss Gary Taylor’s domaining talk, see @kieronhughes live blog notes of the session.

Next up was Lisa Myers on ‘Social Media for SEO’. I’m not going to write much about it here as Lisa has linked to her slides and covered it on the Verve Search blog – but she was sassy, funny, knew her stuff – and also came out with what, for me, was the quote of the day:

‘every time a client asks me what’s the ROI on social media a kitten dies’

Much RTing ensued, you sick kitten killers, you.

Lunch (mmmm cookies) was followed by a site clinic with illustrious panel members; Michelle from caboodle design, Dave from Bronco, Carl from Conversion rate experts and Kieran from

This was a pretty snappy session – covering (unsurprisingly given the panel) design, UX, SEO, and conversion. The panel was pretty brutal in their feedback, so well done to those brave souls who put their sites up for review. My notes for this session suck, I think I must have melted due to the intense heat (who needs holidays huh?)

Jaamit Durrani with some linky goodness

Now for a goodie, I really enjoyed this one – Jaamit Durrani (blogging at SEOInsight) is a natural speaker who engaged the audience effortlessly, I scribbled frantically throughout his 45 minutes of ‘linkbuilding in real life – a practical guide to dominating the SERPs’ (slides on scribd).

  1. ‘Linkbuilding can be daunting’ – break it down and it becomes manageable – do a bit of linkbuilding every month. He gives a shoutout to Paddy Moogan for his project plan for linkbuilding, which he delivered last year at ThinkVisibility.
  2. ‘Quality versus quantity’ – asks the question: ‘what’s better – loads of lower level links, or 5 authority links?’ Answers: Get both.
  3. ‘Stop brown nosing your home page’ – deep links kick arse! More photos of bottoms here. Seriously, the thinkvis speakers are butt obsessed.
  4. ‘Anchor text is your friend’ – a link with a keyword in the anchor text is, 90% of the time, more powerful than one without.
  5. The idea that you can ‘create great content, and the links will come’ is misleading. You do need to engineer it, and you still need a network of influencers to get the word out.
  6. ‘It’s time to burn our hats’ (unless they’re sun hats – seriously – I’m staring to feel like a parboiled lobster in here). Erm – he means white hats and black hats, in the sense that all SEO’s are in some sense trying to manipulate rankings.

The #kittencrimes continue

Jaamit then goes on to look at three websites and scopes out the link potential for them – and would you Adam and Eve it, two of the site owners weren’t even in the room. Whoa – you missed out on some sterling link advice…shocking.

  • Contrary to popular belief you don’t need to be an excel ninja to be good at linkbuilding (good to hear – I’m a failed but still aspirant pivot table obsessive) – you just need to click around.
  • The point is not to imitate but to understand what is happening with your competitors sites, and the reasons that they are ranking.
  • Recommends three tools – linkdiagnosis (classis version, the new spangly one is buggy), opensite explorer, and majestic SEO

Jaamit recommends the application of the ‘multiple angle death grip’ (sounds technical and sexy) consisting of the following:

  • Low level, anchor text deep links at scale. He calls this ‘article spinning’. Article marketing (in the form of submission to ezine articles and the like) is dead. Include up to 3 exact match anchor text per article, manually re write the content (I guess it’s still pretty thin though, there’s no ‘real’ audience involved?) and voila – try article ranks and article marketing automation.
  • Guest blogs a go go – Jaamit thinks these are amazing for ranking, that Google loves these links from fresh content on an established domain, which often get plenty of retweets and comments. Check out myblogguest (brain child of SEOsmartie) and Styleture. Start with something you’re familiar with, and then move out of your comfort zone, thinking laterally about how you can post on a range of topics.
  • Use Google advanced search operators to help find blogs, save time by using query tools soloseo and ontolo link building query generator – if you’re looking for authoritative or .edu links use [ keyphrase], or as Paddy Moogan added via twitter, also try [keyphrase] to get different results.
  • Try the ‘rub their faces in it manoeuvre’ (this is putting me in mind of an Eddie Izzard sketch on all things Heimlich). Work out what it is that they are doing, then do it yourself, but better. For example, dofollow blog commenting doesn’t have to be spammy. Use software like blogfinder to find on topic threads and also as a powerful blog search engine.
  • Recover and claim any lost link juice – use Yoast’s redirects with notification method which passes link juice and notifies users

Phew…Jaamit sums up:

  • Don’t be scared of linkbuilding
  • Build links every month – there are a load of different techniques
  • Understand your arena and know your enemy
  • Things that take longer will pay off longer, and will help you achieve domination (*evil laugh*)

I don’t know about you – but I’m pooped.

SEOidiot: *naughty* spammer v responsible entrepreneur

I haven’t covered some excellent stuff from Paul Madden (saddled with the unfortunate moniker of SEOidiot, however, he has more than a touch of genius, his ‘what would a spammer do’ session went down a storm with a lot of laughs) and Dave Naylor with some wise words on what was essentially branding and SEO. My lack of superhero ability to be in two places at one time meant I couldn’t get to Karl Blanks ‘Conversion Killers’ or Karyn Fleeting from Tinderbox’s talk on PR – both sounded awesome, check out Karen’s slides.

Key Takeaway summation from me? SEO’s in general are a friendly bunch, and our industry is populated with plenty of clever people willing to share. Oh, I also learnt that too many gin and tonics makes you sick. Ahem.

Would I go to ThinkVisibility again? Without a shadow of a doubt. Roll on ThinkVis 2011.