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A debrief of the SearchLove Conference 2016

We sent some of our marketing team to the internationally renowned SearchLove Conference, brought to us by Distilled.

20 October 2016 ( words)
Desislava Stoyanova Desislava Stoyanova

"Be a unicorn in a sea of donkeys."

There are many fantastic conferences in the world of digital marketing, but SearchLove stands out every year for bagging some of the greatest speakers and covering ground-breaking topics. Having seen that the line-up included names such as Rand Fishkin and Larry Kim, and that the speakers would be talking about things such as mobile search, messenger app marketing and featured snippets, I was excited to get the opportunity to attend the conference with my colleagues Lois Wentworth and Emma Russell.


Day One

Day Two

One of the great things about SearchLove is that you do not have to choose between talks, as you do at many conferences, because all of the presentations take place in the same room so that everyone can learn mind-blowing stuff from industry leaders. We weren't disappointed as not long after arriving at the conference, we felt like this:

Day One


We were welcomed to the 13th annual conference in London by Will Critchlow, founder and CEO of Distilled. He gave us a brief overview of what to expect over the two days, encouraged us to tweet throughout the event (the Twittersphere was lit) and then led us straight into the first talk.

The Mindset of Successful Outreach

Lisa Meyers from Verve Search kicked off the conference with a talk about earning website links from creative campaigns. Her advice was to:

Build ideas and concepts that deserve more than just links.

She used some examples from her own agency, including a Director's Cut campaign - which was essentially a ranked list of films based on death count for their client Go Compare. It was such a unique campaign that Guardians of the Galaxy director, James Gunn, spent two hours on Twitter discussing his accolade of 'Deadliest Film Ever'. The work was also covered by hundreds of notable media sources and received 48,000 shares in 48 hours. Lisa's message throughout the talk was to aim high and be bold and if you don't reach your targets first time, don't give up. Try another angle until you succeed.

Why User-Focused Content is the Death of Ranking Factors

Next up was Marcus Tober from Searchmetrics who discussed the ever-elusive ranking factors. There was a load of great stuff packed into this talk, including dispelling common notions of factors that are generally assumed to improve rankings. One such example can be seen here, with the negative effect that referring domains has on rankings for e-commerce sites.

Users search intents

Something which really resonated with us from this talk was to remember that users have completely different search intents depending on the industry and that content needs to reflect this. This is really valuable advice and important to remember, especially if you're working in an agency handling multiple clients. 

Stand Out To YOUR Crowd: A Simple Framework for User-Driven Copywriting

Amy Harrison was next on the spot with her talk on how to write a clear, compelling and persuasive copy that gets noticed by your audience. Amy has been writing copy since 2008 and she excels in creating stories that keep prospective customers reading by conveying value. She does this by avoiding umbrella terms and telling readers why that particular product or service is the best. She started by asking,

Is your copy cheating on you?

Customers nowadays see the same marketing messages over and over again across multiple websites and the results could be quite dangerous, as people tend to ignore what they've already seen. The key is to speak to their desires and sell your unique value.

Tactical Keyword Research in a RankBrain World

We knew it wouldn't be long before RankBrain came up! It was Dr. Pete Meyers from Moz who tackled the subject on stage. He addressed the evolution of search, including the rising importance of voice search and subsequently long-tail keywords. Importantly, he highlighted that we are far beyond targeting specific keywords and shoe-horning them into meta descriptions. He showed us how Google matches queries that are synonymous with the results returned but they haven't been translated by the search engine, and suggested that this could be RankBrain. As seen in the example given here, the query of 'swim training nottingham' returned results for swimming lessons, with the keyword 'lessons' in bold although it wasn't included in the search query.

RankBrain - Google is learning fast

Dr. Pete suggests that this is Google understanding more complex relationships between words and that the machines are learning. His advice?

Write for people.

How To Get Insight From Your Logs

Have you ever thought that your logs might be really important in helping you improve your website visibility? Log analysis can be a very powerful way to gain valuable insights about how Google crawls and views your site, discover and monitor errors, and prioritise decisions. The best bit is that you don't need any in-depth programming skills! Yippee! Dominic Woodman from Distilled revealed everything from why we should do it, to getting the logs, uploading and analysing them. He even offered us a complete guide on how to do that by simply using BigQuery.

Ten CRO Truth Bombs That Will Change Your Approach to Conversion Rate Optimisation

One of the talks of the day that a lot of us had been waiting for, and Larry Kim from Mobile Monkey delivered it in true unicorn style. The talk included 10 'truth bombs' and suggested changes to the way that we approach common CRO practices. Just a few of the main takeaways were: 

  • Kill CTAs! Obvious calls-to-action are insulting to the user – they know that they can 'Order Now'! Instead, try and use something more emotive 
  • Be aggressive with marketing and don't use frequency caps, as conversions increase with ad impressions 
  • Eliminate your landing pages on mobile and allow the user to complete the CTA directly from the ad 

This just scratches the surface of all that Larry covered but just remember:

Be a unicorn in a sea of donkeys.

The Secrets of Storytelling

Storytelling was a main theme throughout the whole conference and its importance was highlighted by almost every speaker there. We couldn't agree more that being able to create a compelling story is one of the main skills a modern marketer should possess. 

The founder of State of Digital, a professional speaker, a trained teacher and last but not least, a natural storyteller, Bas van den Beld left the audience feeling inspired and ready to take action. Why are stories so important? What do they do? Stories stick! They affect minds and change listener's perspective. However, one of the main and most important feature of stories is that they help you build trust! Storytelling is fun and it's powerful, however most marketers fail to use its whole potential. Don't be one of them!

Debate Time With Will Critchlow and Rand Fishkin

This was a messy one and eventually descended into a scramble of hair pulls and eye gauges from two of the most respected industry leaders. In all seriousness, this debate was fun to watch and covered some of the biggest areas of online marketing such as keywords, apps vs web, dark data and PPC. One of the many interesting differences between the two experts was their opinions on content marketing. They were asked whether content marketing will replace SEO and if yes, when? Rand answered that in many cases, it already has as a lot of marketers now place less importance on SEO, yet investing in content without considering how it will be distributed is a recipe for a poor content strategy. Will slightly disagreed, saying that everything is content and that it overlaps hugely with digital, but he also noted that content marketing has the opportunity to steal budgets from ads. The debate highlighted how there are differing opinions in the industry but the point on which everyone agreed on is that you are writing for people, not machines!

A photo of Will and Rand on stage

SEO Split-Testing: How You Can Run Tests and What We've Learned

Tom 'TA' Anthony, Head of R&D at Distilled, opened his talk with the warning to be wary of untested recommendations; just because Google says that something is true, it doesn't mean that it is! Don't implement something across your whole site because you've been told that it will improve your rankings; be sure to test it on a handful of pages first. Tom stated that we need to split-test for SEO in the same way that we test for CRO, as well as suggesting a technique for testing which consisted of creating two buckets of pages and using one as a variant group to make the changes to and keeping one as the control group. There was loads of other great stuff in this talk, including the mention that Google is going to start penalising sites with interstitials (we are personally very happy about this from a UX perspective!).   

Day Two

Make Your Marketing Memorable With Visual Storytelling

One of the UK's rising stars in Media & Journalism and the Head of Content Lab at Sprinklr, Jessica Gioglio opened Day Two ofSearchLove with her talk on visual storytelling and how to make the most out of it. Did you know that our brains process visuals 60,000x faster than text alone? Or that posts with visuals attract up to 180% more users than those without? She not only revealed these astonishing facts but also many practical tips on how to better engage with customers using visuals and rich media. The right visuals bring your story to life and help you deliver a much more memorable customer experience and inspire brand advocacy. Next time when in doubt, don't hesitate to add a video to your post... or a meme.

Business cat loves a good meme

The Changing Landscape of Mobile Search

It has recently been announced that Google is going to separate its index into mobile and desktop... and that mobile will be the primary index. This is a huge development and highlights that we are now living in a truly mobile-first world. Bridget Randolph from Distilled talked to us about the importance of schema markup, especially now with the increased appearances of featured snippets and rich cards. Additionally, it is now essential for mobile sites to be fast enough due to the new index, yet a huge number of businesses out there still do not have a mobile site. When Google begins using the new index, it is expected that this will have a noticeable impact on rankings. Bridget therefore highlighted the necessity of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and discussed the possibility of being able to do things all in one interface in the future if AMPs are considered alongside app integration. Exciting stuff!

WhatsAppening With Messenger App Marketing

Are social networks dead? Of course, not! Not yet, at least. They are simply evolving into chat apps. Jes Stiles, the CMO of emerging markets at Ringier, delivered a brilliant presentation on the rise of the new social networks and why we as marketers need to pay special attention to this emerging trend. Chat apps are huge! Just think about WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber and so on. Do you have at least one chat app installed on your smartphone? According to Business Insider 'the combined usage of the top four messaging apps now exceeds the combined usage of the top four social media apps'.  The difference between reaching out to your customers via chat app rather than email is that your message will actually be seen and read on the chat app... chat apps have no complex algorithms to learn, no message costs, no additional noise. They are perfect for driving engagement, sessions and revenue. Why not have a chat with CNN's bot and get personalised stories sent to you every day? Chat bots are on the rise... keep your eyes (and apps) peeled.

Taking the Top Spot: How to Earn More Featured Snippets

Rob Bucci, CEO of getSTAT and self-proclaimed 'all around nice guy', gave us the lowdown on featured snippets. Firstly, he outlined the different types of snippets: paragraph snippets, table snippets, list snippets and column snippets. What was interesting with this talk was the amount of data, which showed us trends with snippets and how quickly they are changing. For instance, paragraph snippets were by far the most common back in January 2016 and it is still the case now, but this has been trending down quite dramatically. Other things to note is that place packs never appear alongside snippets, as well as that snippets appear for some queries but not necessarily for variations of that query. As it is a feature that is changing quite quickly, many businesses are yet to optimise their content for snippets. If you think that you could appear for a snippet, change the content on your page for how you would like it to appear (i.e. a table, a list etc.) because then Google will be more likely to feature it this way. So the message from Rob was to get in there and steal weak snippets!

Habits of Advanced Conversion Optimisers

What would you do if life had an undo button? In the world of conversion optimisation such thing does actually exist, and it's called testing. Many important decisions we take in terms of site optimisation can be actually undone. So why not try?  

Stephen Pavlovich, the CEO of and a specialist of CRO, shared with us some of the main habits advanced conversion optimisers have. Many marketers focus solely on their website when thinking about CRO. However, changing the colour or the size of the CTA won't change much in the majority of cases.  Many of us tend to skip the first and most important step of conversion optimisation which is actually finding what the problem is, and then trying to solve it. Why aren't people converting? Is it because you are targeting the wrong audience, because you have the wrong CTA, or maybe because customers don't understand your product? Testing is important but it's essential to do it correctly, which is why Stephen showed us a prioritisation framework so that we can get it right first time.

Hacking RankBrain and Other Machine-Learning Algorithms

The stage was graced once again by Larry Kim, but not as we know him... it was Larry Kim from the future, here to tell us what to do to survive SEO judgement day! He referred to search engines becoming run completely by machine-learning algorithms such as RankBrain, and that one day all SEOs would wake up and the rankings that they had worked so hard for would fall dramatically overnight (sound familiar?). He gave us some tips to help us futureproof our websites and our rankings. One of these was to optimise your titles to get clicks as follows: Format of content – emotional hook – content type – topic. Often on Wordstream, you see articles that will take a numbered format such as '35 Best Ever Title Tag Examples'. If it works for Larry, it should work for us! For more on this, visit Larry's LinkedIn article

Get Their Attention: Extreme Data Viz Makeovers for Maximum Presentation Impact

This talk from Lea Pica began by showing us what many professionals that work with data are guilty of: presentations that bore their audience! Lea gave us some tips in order to keep presentations interesting; first of all was keep your slides to one bullet point per page and don't read off of them! Additionally, she told us that vision is the strongest sense and this can be leveraged to present your data in exciting ways that can be easily understood. She told us to steer clear of pie charts and recommended the Juice Labs Chart Chooser to decide the best format in which to present your data. Finally, she discussed the importance of imagery, which linked back to the theme of storytelling; images stir emotion and help to tell a story, making for a more engaging presentation.

Why People Buy: Remembering the People Behind the Clicks

Wil Reynolds from Seer Interactive is known for being an entertaining and engaging speaker, so the conference certainly ended on a great finale. Wil spoke about the fact that there are humans behind search queries and that not all digital marketing efforts necessarily have the outcome that you'd expect based on Google's rules. He used an example of a client from his own agency, who saw a huge increase in CTR and conversions after their meta descriptions were changed to emphasise the recency and emotion of their products. The client saw over a 300% increase in CTR which equated to a huge amount of conversions and a large increase in forecasted revenue. Wil also played some videos which showed users looking at search page results and showing where they clicked, accompanied by voiceovers. These videos showed the power of certain words, such as 'The Complete Guide', where it was assumed because it said 'complete' that's what it would be. The user ended up disappointed with the actual content, but this proves Wil's point that words are powerful and that us humans aren't as rational as we think we are! 


There were so many things covered at SearchLove, but here is a retrospective summary of some of the main points:

  • Use storytelling. Stories help you to convey a message of how valuable your product or service is, as well as increasing brand affinity.
  • Getting to the top spot in Google is not always the ideal place to be. Brand affinity and loyalty mean more to a human, and we won't always automatically go for the top choice. This also means that when choosing meta titles and descriptions, you can be more creative and write for the human rather than stuffing in keywords which don't provide value.
  • We should always be focusing on creating great content. It is one of the most fundamental parts of user experience and this means that all of the benefits of good SEO will follow. If you are providing fantastic content, then it will keep you happy, Google happy and most importantly, the user happy!

We would like to finish by saying a big thanks to all of the speakers, everyone at Distilled and all others involved with organising SearchLove 2016!

Desislava Stoyanova

Author: Desislava Stoyanova