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Friends of Search 2015

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the second Friends of Search conference in Amsterdam. I was a speaker at last year’s inaugural event, and I liked it so much I promised I’d be back as an attendee for the next edition. As it turned out, the organisers asked me back as a panelist anyway!

The evening before the event most of the speakers and organisers got together and shared a few drinks & nibbles, and this is when I finally met Michael King aka iPullRank. Mike and I have had our share of disagreements over the years, and this seemed a good opportunity to put all that behind us and instead bond over beers and cheesy selfies.

Kicking it with @badams — MyCool King (@iPullRank) February 18, 2015

The next day Michael kicked the conference off with his keynote about where SEO is heading, and how to get ahead of the game. His key takeaway: don’t focus on catching up with Google, instead focus on maximising your value for the user. That’s where Google is heading, so you need to already be there when the search engine gets clever enough to properly enforce its user-centric approach.

Following Michael was a presentation from a Google guy who spoke, unsurprisingly, about ads. Once again Google’s effective use of double-speak and propaganda tactics was made clear in how the Googler equated ‘search’ with ‘advertising’, never once mentioning organic search. It’s a subtle game Google is playing, but it sure is effective. All in all that talk was entirely forgettable and probably the least interesting of the whole day.

That one blip was more than made up for by Richard Baxter‘s awesome talk about ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’. He made an analogy between SEO and Formula 1, where small improvements made along the way result in a massive uplift at the end. Richard listed numerous small SEO tweaks you can use to squeeze every bit of performance out of a website.

Next up was Cindy Krum, who’s title of ‘mobile marketing evangelist’ is entirely appropriate. Her talk about mobile SEO had a whole load of useful stats and actionable tips, including one I’d not heard before: using the Vary HTTP header for dynamically served content.

Mobile SEO ranking factors from @Suzzicks at #FOS15: — Barry Adams (@badams) February 19, 2015

Another stand-out talk for me was Ian Lurie‘s presentation about strategic thinking for SEO. So many SEOs believe they have a strategy for their clients, but all they really have is a collection of tactics. Ian clarified what a strategy actually is and how you go about formulating one.

With the right strategy in place, success in SEO is much more likely and you can avoid many of the pitfalls that befall those who just follow the latest hypes.

Another talk later on the day that I really enjoyed was Pascal Fantou‘s ‘tweak geeks’, where he showed a number of technical tricks and Google Analytics hacks that can really wreak havoc with your competitors. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using these hacks, of course, but they’re very interesting to test for, ahum, research purposes. Mwhahahaha.

The superb Lisa Myers gave a strong talk about creative campaigns, showing a number of examples of successful linkbait using creative thinking and fresh angles. This was a very valuable talk for me, as so many speakers only dive in to the theory – Lisa showed actual real-world case studies, demonstrating the true effectiveness of what her agency does.

At the end of the day we had a panel discussion where I got to contribute modestly to the day, answering questions from our moderator Bas van den Beld as well as from the audience together with Ian Lurie and Lisa Myers.

I had at least one noteworthy contribution to that panel, best summarised by Dennis Sievers’s tweet:

Best SEO tool? Common fucking sense, according to @badams #fos15 — Dennis Sievers (@resiever) February 19, 2015

Afterwards the evening’s proceedings began with free beers at the venue’s bar. Suffice to say it was another late one, with special thanks to David, Ruud, and Jan-Willem.

Friends of Search 2016 is definitely on my agenda once again – if it’s half as good as the 2015 edition, it’ll be worth every penny.

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