Last Night an SEO Saved My Life – What I Learnt at Distilled’s First Meetup

I was one of the lucky few that got to venture down to @distilled’s first meetup (#distilledmeetup) and I had an epic time!

Firstly, I’d like to extend my thanks to everyone at Distilled and Lauren (@LC_Brady) for organising such an awesome event (with complimentary drinks and food which were firm attendee favourites).  The evening was entitled ‘Integrating the Off and Online World into Your SEO and Social Media Strategy’ and featured three very interesting presentations.

Up first from Fresh Networks there was Charlie Osmond (@cosmond) who talked about the convergence of social media with offline and online engagement.  Richard Baxter (@richardbaxter) from SEOGadget (<3) talked about gamification trends and how you can incorporate them into SEO campaigns.  And finally Distilled’s own Will Critchlow (@willcritchlow) explored where we can get inspiration for SEO and digital marketing strategies.

Each talk was really insightful and I wanted to share a few of the things that I learnt from last night.

Social Media – Online and Offline Integration

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(image courtesy of Marian Kihogo)

Charlie gave some fantastic case studies of how big brands are utilising social media in a very offline context. No longer is social media a one medium channel – it is already being used to engage customers in the offline world (I refute the term ‘real world’ – the Internet isn’t any less real or anymore fake than the offline world).

The example that stuck out most for me from Charlie was Topshop’s ‘Wish You Were at Topshop’ marketing campaign. You can read more about it here (Fresh Networks utilised several social networks including Facebook and Instagram to publish content simultaneously). I actually remember this from some of my friends Facebook profiles and thinking: ‘whoa, that looks cool!’ (Instagram is by far my favourite app at the moment).

The thing that I will take most from Charlie’s talk is not just that social media online marketing is converging with offline marketing, but that it can facilitate it and vice-versa.  Utilising social media to facilitate offline engagement between customers and brands can arguably be more valuable. By offering customers something tangible whilst encouraging them to engage with it through an online channel, enables a much stronger engagement level.

Using Simple Game Mechanics to Enhance Your User Engagement

Next was Richard who gave a really interesting presentation on gamification – specifically not just what it is but the principles and themes behind it (something invaluable for understanding how to utilise it best for clients).

For me, gamification is something that is apparent in so many different services and industries. It’s become so ubiquitous that for most people, you won’t even notice that the website you use actually features game mechanics. Some of the points highlighted by Richard included the importance of:

  • Points
  • Leader Boards
  • Levels / Challenges
  • Rewards

Richard also gave a great many examples of gamification utilised in innovative ways (Bunchball, Dribbble, SEOMoz and so on), however I’d like to comment quickly on two of my own personal favourite examples of gamification.

Gamification – Allkpop.com

The first example is of the website that I visit most (ask anyone at MintTwist – I rave about this website all the time). Allkpop is undoubtedly the largest English-language online news resource for Korean popular entertainment (in particular K-pop music). I’m an ardent K-pop fan and have been visiting this website (which is a typical blog in many ways) for a few years.

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In the past 12 months, there has been a significant shift in the way it encourages users to engage with their website. Instead of a simple commenting system that most blogs feature, they have completely gamified their fan base. They utilise points, badges and a leader board to encourage engagement. Likewise, competitions are focused on social sharing (tweet this, like that and so on).

Engagement levels have noticeable increased. It’s not uncommon for blog posts to have thousands of comments – something many international media outlets can’t muster. The founders, a company called 6Theory, recognised a growing niche and how to fill a gap in the market. But they also successfully utilised game mechanics to increase engagement, and from there – brand awareness. Allkpop boats 4 million monthly readers and 75 million page views per month.  Make no bones about it, Allkpop is growing to be a global superbrand within its niche.

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Gamification – PS3 & Xbox 360

The other example(s) that I wanted to talk about is the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live services from Sony and Microsoft respectively. For the uninitiated, these are services that facilitate online gaming.  However, they are so much more than a simple Internet connection.

Instead, users have profiles and most importantly they earn things –trophies for the PS3, achievements for the 360. From here, you are ranked against your friends and this increases your status (as mentioned in Richard’s talk). What these services do is incredibly clever on several levels:

  1. They gamify video games!
  2. They increase player retention as merely finishing a game is no longer enough – you now have to complete every side mission and may need to replay the game several times to get all the trophies/achievements
  3. They increase competition between friends
  4. They create status amongst the gaming community (and bragging rights!)
  5. They integrate with social networks so you can automatically post to your Facebook wall when you get a trophy

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They do this all in a very subtle way (most gamers don’t even really think that this service has game mechanics). But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t met with some trepidation at the start as some gamers saw them as trivialising the gaming experience. Now they have become ubiquitous and omniscient.

Videogames that are released on other systems are also starting to contain in-game gamification (by this I largely mean Wii and handheld consoles). These don’t work as well because they lack the vital social element. Because the network infrastructure is not there, they are largely an added distraction that do not really push the gaming experience into an online social engagement. Still, going forward I can’t think of the video gaming industry existing without this.

Inspiration from the Off and Online World into Your SEO and Social Media Strategy

The final talker of the evening was Will Critchlow who gave an insightful talk on inspiration and how, as online marketers, we can find new strategies and techniques from our offline cousins.

I think this is a really important thing to remember for everyone within the creative industry. Whilst mediums and messages might be different, that’s not to say techniques, strategies and functionalities can’t be integrated and influence each other.

One of the websites that I found particularly interesting was moat.com which shows you the display ads for a particular brand (normally large brands like Google, Starbucks, Yahoo and so on).  Not only is this insightful for understanding a brand’s message and identity on the display network, but it is also quite beautiful!  Here are examples from Yahoo!, Bing and Google.

Yahoo Display Ads
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Bing Display Ads

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Google Display Ads
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The three brands above are undoubtedly three of the largest brands on the Internet.  And it’s really interesting to see their different marketing approaches.  Yahoo! features a lot of strong visual imagery. Bing also features a lot of imagery but it’s subtler – like an IKEA advert.  Google’s ads are sparse and feature clever branding.

This gives us a genuine insight into the way each different company promotes itself online – and the kind of messages they have.  It’s easy to forget, being an SEO, that even companies are famous as Google still want (and need) to generate new business.

Another thing that I’d take away from Will’s talk was just to re-iterate how important content is. It doesn’t have to be fancy, viral content that involves 12 videos that are directed by James Cameron and a host of Oscar winning actors.  Creating interesting content can be as simple as an excellent blog post.

So these are my notes and the things that I’ve taken away from the event.  I thought it was really insightful and I definitely felt lucky to go! I’m already looking forward to the next one and to Distilled’s SearchLove conference in a couple of weeks.

But that’s not all!  Here’s also what I learnt from the event:

  • That Gow’s Restaurant has exceptionally yummy food. Iceland prawn ring platter for £2 this was not! I’ll be going back there for sure (and the wine was nice too!)
  • That we work in quite a handsome industry, much more so than web development
  • That SEOs are super friendly
  • That it’s okay to steal things (not my words, Will Critchlow’s words)
  • That I really need a new service provider for my phone – I was only downstairs, not on the Underground!
  • That the annoying updates of what your friends are listening to with Spotify on Facebook has meant kerching for Spotify.

And that’s just a few of the things that I learnt!

One final big thank you to @distilled, @LC_Brady, @cosmond, @richardbaxter and @willcritchlow!

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