Nick Mason creates digital art and beautiful websites.
His creative work for Cicada includes the illustrations on the First Line Support homepage and the related the magazine advertising – of which this is an example.
We were delighted when he accepted an invitation from us to attend the BrightonSEO conference. And we were even happier when he wrote a thought provoking post for us about how his views on SEO had changed, as a result of going to the conference.
SEO has always been something I feel I ought to understand better than I do.
As a one-man-band making websites for a variety of clients, the phrase ‘I want my site to be top on Google’ is something I hear on an almost daily basis but am never really sure how to respond to.
To my pre-Brighton self, SEO was about technical tips and tricks for out-ranking your competitors on Google; something that never really grabbed my interest or inspired me.
As it turns out, SEO is mostly about something much more ‘real’ and infinitely more fun: solving people’s problems and creating great content.
The first surprise
The first surprise of the day came during a lively talk with some Google veterans. The insights they gave into life at Google were interesting and amusing (apparently the free massages are more than an urban myth).
But what really grabbed my attention were the answers they gave to questions from members of the audience.
Almost all queries related to best practices for improving search rankings and almost all were ultimately answered with one of two phrases: ‘Don’t try to game the system’ and ‘Solve someone’s problem’.
The first of these is pretty straightforward: the people at Google are almost certainly cleverer than you and any tricks you might use to boost your rankings artificially will eventually be stamped out, leaving your prized number one ranking in tatters.
The second is more interesting: Google was, is, and always will be about finding the best possible web pages for a given set of keywords.
This in itself isn’t too surprising, but the fact that they’ve been getting progressively better at it every day since 1998 means that ranking highly is no longer about exploiting the algorithms better than your competitors.
Instead, it’s about providing useful information that people want to read, share and link to. It’s about solving someone’s problem for them. This is blindingly obvious on reflection, but for someone who has always regarded SEO as mysterious and highly technical, it came as a surprise to see this expressed so unanimously by top talent in the trade.
The afternoon provided the perfect confirmation and case study for this.
No longer Confused.com about SEO
Sharon Flaherty, Head of Content and PR at Confused.com, gave a captivating talk about how Confused.com had seen itself relegated to page four of the search results following a recent Google algorithm change, and had fought it’s way back to the coveted number one spot in the super-competitive insurance market.
And how did they do it? By creating a ton of fantastic content. From YouTube videos to infographics and from articles to blog posts, Sharon explained how Confused.com had spent 18 months building up a bank of quality content which informed, entertained, excited and engaged their audience.
And not a scrap of technical SEO in sight.
The budget for each piece was modest, with effort spent on identifying ideas that would excite customers rather than on flashy production. I didn’t see anything that couldn’t be executed with a smartphone for shooting video, a familiarity with a basic video-editing tool and a reasonable understanding of desktop publishing tools.
The thing that made the content sing was the thinking and strategy behind it.
The project was so successful that several pieces were picked up by newspapers and bloggers, some went viral on social media and others led to radio interviews.
All of this attention and exposure led to a marked increase to Confused.com’s traffic, and as people referenced and shared the content on their blogs and websites, search rankings steadily improved. Confused.com now sits at the top of search ranking for their most important keywords and, even more importantly, they will be hard to dislodge.
They are at the top of the pile on merit and because they create content that people genuinely want to find and make use of, so Google will always want to help people find it.
Pre-Brighton SEO, I would have recommended my clients start a blog to promote their business, maintain a social media presence and try to have a two-way conversation with their audience where possible. But without much conviction and without really knowing what results are realistically achievable.
From now on, I will be emphasising the importance of having a strategy for maintaining ‘digital eye-contact’ with your audience through creative use of video, graphic and written content and I’ll have some fantastic case-studies to help explain what I’m on about and to convince the sceptical.
Thank you Brighton SEO!