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A Review Of Thinkvisibility

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ThinkVisibilityOver the weekend I was lucky enough to attend ThinkVisibility, a conference in Leeds (UK) where I was speaking on reputation management.

It was a one day conference which billed itself as:

"...A one-day mini conference with a focus on the areas of web development and marketing which are usually left behind in the creation process:
SEO, PPC, Monetisation, Blogging, Accessibility and Usability."

There's another conference in September and tickets were only Ј30 this time around which was a right bargain - just take a look at the speaker list! I highly recommend that anyone interested in blogging and/or SEO attend the conference, especially for that kind of price (even though I imagine it might go up for the next one!)

Here's a summary of the sessions I attended:

Tim Nash - Let's Make a Search Engine

The first presentation of the morning started with Tim bringing out a white lab coat and 4 buckets of red liquid. Dominic, who organised the conference, could be seen having a heart attack at the back of the room as we all wondered what the buckets of liquid were for and whether the conference venue would be use-able afterwards.

Tim's talk focused on how search engines work and how they came into existence. The buckets were used to explain pagerank and how linking between websites affects this. It was an enjoyable presentation, but I'm not sure how many people who hadn't previously understood pagerank came out doing so! Still, Tim's an entertaining speaker and had some good audience participation which was encouraging for that early in the morning.

After talking about search engines, Tim moved on to talk about the future of search which, although interesting enough, didn't, in my opinion, cover anything particularly groundbreaking. In a nutshell, his opinion is that the future is social, either through searchwiki, twitter or similar.

At the end of his presentation he told people to google 'that bloke in a white coat', which was a schoolboy error with Dave Naylor in the room. Dave promptly put up a blog post which ranked for the term within minutes. Those pesky SEOs!

Chris Garrett  - Blogging Visibility

Next up was Chris Garrett with a talk on how to get more visibility for your blog. He covered 25 tips ranging from commenting on other blogs (basic) to setting up podcasts (more advanced). Overall the talk was nicely done but perhaps not enough time was spent on some of the more advanced techniques; I knew almost all of what he recommended. That said, you can never hear the basics too often and it was a comprehensive list.

The most interesting concept that Chris introduced was partnering with other bloggers on projects. By combining interests and efforts you can reach a wider audience than you could otherwise. He gave the interesting example of playing good cop, bad cop with a fellow blogger, where he was the calming influence to the other blogger's controversy. He came out very well out of that one apparently!

Chris was a good speaker and slipped in a few entertaining phrases which I enjoyed. The only criticism I have is that he recommended text link ads as a means to gain exposure to your blog, which I don't think many SEO's would recommend. In fact, I'm not sure many SEOs would recommend using a broker to buy links these days.

Update: Chris has gotten in touch to say he doesn't endorse buying links, see comment thread below

Al Carlton - Affiliate Talk

Al, who later nipped to the pub between sessions, is a very entertaining character and gave a great presentation on affiliate marketing. His slides didn't come out well for some reason, which meant we were staring at a white slide with "Optimise" written at the top. To his credit, Al managed to pull it off and shared some great tips, such as:

  • When running affiliate programs, simply ask your contact for higher commissions. Just asking can get you a long way, especially when you're driving a good amount of traffic.
  • If you're running adsense on your blog then pay attention to which advertisers are appearing (and are relevant), visit their website and see if they have an affiliate program. If they do then sign up and replace the adsense block with the same ads only using affiliate links rather than adsense. You'll get much higher returns doing this than you will through adsense (not to mention better control over formatting etc).
  • If you're running a site with multiple forms of revenue generation then make sure you funnel the most clicks through the highest revenue generating links. For example, on his blog coolest gadgets not every post has an affiliate link on it so he has adsense and banner advertising etc. When he makes a post with an affiliate link in it he'll often hide the other ads and sometimes even the navigation to ensure that as many people use the affiliate links as possible.

There was also an enlightening Q&A section with some interesting questions asked about tracking, facebook ads and other things. I found the talk very useful but then I'm a bit of an affiliate n00b!

Peter Cooper - Mystery Talk

I missed the beginning of this talk unfortunately so I don't know if it had a better title than 'mystery talk' but I suspect that it should have been called something like 'Passion!' because that's what the talk was all about - how to find and utilise passion for personal branding and business.

Peter is a great speaker and made the brave move of not having slides which he managed to pull off well. He talked about some of the people he really admires in business online and how they made it, in particular paying attention to the mantra "pay attention to what people do not what people say". Sound advice!

Two of the people he held up as shining examples of how to turn passion into business and still enjoy it were Gary Vaynerchuk, a wine podcasting guy and Balsamiq a website mock-up tool.

Peter's talk was exciting and interesting and his enthusiasm certainly rubbed off on the audience! While I admired the lack of slides, I would've liked to have been able to get a better idea of some of the sites and concepts he was talking about.

Dave Naylor - SEO

Always the entertaining speaker, Dave gave a short and sweet presentation on the basics of SEO, nailing home the point that SEO isn't cheap, won't guarantee rankings and won't work in 4 weeks. Dave also talked about how content is king and how he's seen examples of sites ranking well for competitive queries on the strength of quality content ALONE without any links to speak of to back up the rankings. A fascinating topic. Dave also mentioned that once the search engines start using upstream/downstream traffic to websites to affect rankings then our jobs (as SEOs) will have to change dramatically.

Once Dave had covered this he went off the record and talked about all manner of interesting and fascinating subjects, which were worth the conference fee alone.

In particular, he spent some time talking about 'silver bullet' sites which, when you buy a link from, result in the auto-ban of the site being linked to. This blew my mind, though I can almost understand why it happens. The only example he showed (which I unfortunately can't reveal) was very expensive to buy links from but it is a very interesting area. However, I'm not sure the audience was quite SEO-savvy enough to appreciate that this isn't something your average site needs to worry about. Later in the day I was sitting next to Amy who works for Suma (a UK health foods brand who only recently launched an online e-commerce platform) and she was getting worried that her (genuine, organic) links from really strong sites like the Fairtrade site might get her banned. I put her mind at rest and told her that those links were great and would do her no harm, but I wonder how many other people were scared by the talk.

I learned a lot from Dave and certainly have a few things (black and white hat) to go away and think about.


Then there was my talk on reputation management. I might have accidentally said that the most effective way to control the serps for your name is to change it by marrying a Thai bride on the internet for Ј50. I would like to re-iterate that this is NOT the service we provide to our clients.... :-) Still, people seemed to enjoy the talk - thanks for all the tweets about it.

Update: You can read all my slides over on the Distilled site: Reputation Management presentation slides.

Patrick Altoft - SEO

I spoke to Patrick before he was due to speak and he said he was nervous because he hadn't really spoken at conferences before. This surprised me because he really knows his stuff and is actually a very competent speaker. Hopefully he'll get invited to more speaking gigs soon!

Patrick's talk focused on white-hat linkbuilding and the 3 different kinds of links you can build:

  • TrustRank building links such as links from the BBC or the guardian
  • PageRank building links such as sitewide links from good sites in your niche
  • Keyword focused links such as from article sites and directories where you can control the exact anchor text of the link.

Patrick explained the points clearly and gave good examples of how you can go about getting all 3 kinds of links. He also made the very important point that when you linkbuild all you need to do is follow this two-step process:

  1. Identify what type of links the site needs
  2. Go and get them

He said that 99%of people don't do step 1, which I think is probably true, though a large number of people don't do step 2 either!! (Just do it people!)

Finishing with a section on QDF (query deserves freshness) Patrick mentioned how breaking stories first can give you a massive advantage ranking for breaking queries even if you don't have the PageRank to justify out-ranking bigger sites talking about the same thing.

Kieron Donoghue - How To Make A Living From Affiliate Marketing

Another affiliate talk from Kieron, which, although similar to Al's from earlier in the day, managed to cover very different subjects; the talks actually complemented each other very well. Kieron talked about making affiliate sites FAT not THIN and gave some real world examples of how he's made money off some surprising thing in the past (and how you could go about copying him). I can't share details about much of that, but it was great of Kieron to show real numbers in some of his slides so you could get a better feel of what he was talking about.

One of the most interesting points Kieron made was never to take content down. He's found old posts suddenly start ranking again and bring in a lot of money, which is a good point, especially when you're looking at search terms with seasonal search volume (such as "[brand name] sale").

Kieron also emphasised the first-mover advantage (which Patrick also talked about), saying how you can use that to your advantage in affiliate marketing too.


Overall it was really fun day with lots of quality talks so thanks again to Dominic for organising the conference and inviting me to speak. Much appreciated!

In the spirit of constructive feedback here's a few things I think could be improved for next time:

  • Better schedule information - there were no printouts of the schedule which confused quite a few people and I found myself not quite sure what time talks started or who was speaking in which room at several points during the day.
  • More detailed information on the talks - there were two affiliate talks and two SEO talks during the day which actually worked fine, there was no overlap but I think it would have been better to offer a unique angle for each talk so that people could decide which ones they wanted to go to more easily.
  • Presentations available online - this was a feature of SMX I really liked where after the conference you got a login to a section of the site where you can download any presentations from the day. This is a great feature as it means you don't need to stress about taking notes and it allows you to take a look at the sessions you missed.

Bravo though, I'm looking forward to the next one already. I urge anyone involved in SEO in the UK to go along!

published @ March 9, 2009

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