A little while ago, I attended a conference called LinkLove in London, organised by Distilled. The conference was primarily aimed at ‘SEOs’, but also suggested that it might be suitable for (small) business owners. So I went along. Was it worthwhile, did our business benefit, and what would I suggest to other small business owners considering attending an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) conference?

The blurb suggested that business owners might benefit in a number of ways:

  • ‘Actionable advice for you to implement into your own business.
  • Draw inspiration from case studies across a number of different verticals.
  • Establish relationships with key influencers that can help your business succeed.’

I think that we did get all of that – to an extent. But, being honest, I think BrightCarbon could have benefited a lot more if I had done some things differently. So, here’s my list of pointers for other business owners or small business folk considering attending an SEO event:

Work out if SEO matters to your company

We’ve had a few customers find us via search engines, and that has persuaded us that a website that people can find is worth investing in. If SEO is important to your company, and you want to understand the subject, an SEO conference is a great place to go. You meet helpful people, get immersed in the subject matter, and understand how making a success of SEO can involve more fundamental (i.e. management and leadership) changes than just asking the web guy to buy links or stuff keywords.

I cared enough to attend LinkLove, but I haven’t really succeeded within BrightCarbon in getting everyone to create content or spend time engaging with our web presence. Estimating the opportunity – in monetary terms – might have helped.

Schedule time for follow-up

I came away from LinkLove and then went on holiday a few days later – just by coincidence of scheduling. I enjoyed the break, but it got in the way of following-up from the conference. Contacting people, connecting on LinkedIn, following up on ideas for collaboration – all became harder to do two weeks later. Because of that, some things never got done.

Be prepared to change

I attended LinkLove thinking we were doing some things right, and others wrong. I left thinking that perhaps the things I thought were right actually need to change. But pride and inertia can make it difficult to act on what you learn. Appeal to a different audience. Create different types of content. Participate on different platforms. You need to be prepared to learn, to listen to some hard truths, and to admit that you have got to change.

Think about who will do the work

We’re not a huge business. Twelve people right now, thirteen in a few weeks. Update: We’ve grown quite a bit since 2013 – check out our team page for up-to-date numbers! Bootstrapped (or careful but profitable – call it what you will). We don’t have an SEO manager, or even a marketing team. But somebody needs to be responsible for actually doing the content stuff, the site optimisation stuff, the contacting other websites stuff (“outreach” – SEOs are an evangelical bunch). That person needs time to do it too.

As the person running a lot of things here, I was never quite going to have enough spare time to do everything I wanted. There are – of course – 100s of SEO consultants who would be happy to help – and a lot of them attend events like LinkLove. Some of the SEO companies out there charge a lot, and are aimed at bigger companies. Other companies and consultants would be perfectly within reach of even a very small budget. (There was a session at LinkLove about SEO on £350 a month – to give a sense of what could be achieved.) Or, there may be people within a small business who could take on various tasks. But the point is, if nobody gets given a task to do, that’s who is going to do it. Too many things to do are still floating about in my in tray, and not enough has actually happened.

Expect overlap with other conferences

I go to a bunch of sales conferences and marketing conferences (because that’s the field we are in – creating sales presentations). As the SEO world seems to be talking about valuable content, and doing “Real Company Sh*t“, it ends up overlapping with sessions on content marketing, and PR, from elsewhere. I think a few fields are converging around the idea that companies should do interesting and valuable stuff to get noticed by potential customers or influencers. So, on the one hand, this is a world with its own language, conversations, and celebrities (which is just bizarre to watch as an outsider) that can feel impenetrable – but then, on the other, it’s just about content marketing.

I suspect that SEO types would benefit from going to to the likes of MarketingProf’s B2B Forum, HubSpot’s Inbound Conference (with celebrity speaker). I have no idea how many do go. It feels like the distinctions between SEO and content marketing and demand generation more generally are somewhat artificial, and may start to melt away.

Take advantage of the free site review

I think perhaps as an opportunity to get new staff working with clients, Distilled offered slots for delegates to receive advice on their sites. This was a far more serious opportunity than I realised – with a bunch of communication beforehand, time to talk at the conference, and a completed report sent out a few days later. (Thanks Bridget.) But, I still haven’t managed to go through the report and do enough of the things suggested, which links back to some of the items above…

Talk to the people near you

In some ways, the most useful contact I made at LinkLove helped BrightCarbon for reasons completely unrelated to SEO. Eben works for Shutterstock, and now they are a supplier. We’re saving money, and happy with the service. That connection – made just by saying hello to the person sat next to me – paid for the conference and my time.

Write a list of concrete actions

I took copious notes, but they are a mess. A mixture of things we can do immediately, things we aspire to be able to do, and stuff that was interesting but not practically relevant to our company. If you want to make follow-up easy, then keep a separate ‘to do’ list for the day after the conference.

Expect some sessions to be less useful

Most people at a top-tier SEO conference work as SEO professionals – either at agencies or in-house. They also know a lot more about SEO than the average small business owner. Some of the sessions are relevant to professionals, but not to all business owners. That was expected. I wasn’t really interested in using search tool APIs for Enterprise Link Spam Analysis. To be honest, it’s all I can do to look in our Moz account each week (and I never really find enough time to actually use the information I get, although I know I should).

Go to the party

The SEO community – or that part of it I experienced – was incredibly friendly and giving. I guess it’s the mindset of sharing freely. People were all just super-helpful, in terms of suggesting people I should speak to, things I should look at, ideas I should be exposed to. I’m not sure I remember all the advice I was given – it was a great atmosphere and a free bar – but the advice flowed as freely as the drinks.

Should small business owners go?

So, would I recommend small business owners attend SEO conferences? Yes, if search is important to your business, it’s a sensible investment. But of course hearing good advice and acting on it are different – so think hard about how you will actually get stuff done. Even if you are going to bring in an agency to help – being exposed to the mindset and ideas of search engine optimisation (and content marketing) might be pretty helpful in terms of managing a relationship.

We’ve booked a place for SearchLove in London later this year already. The potential gains are just too great to ignore.

Further reading

B2B sales and publishing pricing online

Presentation agency or marketing agency?

Do I need a PowerPoint expert: Outsourcing presentations vs. in-house design

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Joby Blume

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  1. Image of Derek Edmond Derek Edmond says:

    Interesting to read someone’s perspective of an SEO conference that isn’t in the direct industry (as in SEO professional or in-house search marketer). I think many SEO conferences can get overwhelming for small business owners because there is so much you could do (if only you had the time).

    Your point about writing a list of concrete actions is critical. Based on the level of experience of the attendee, that list might be just a few items to a few dozen, but definitely should be identified (I recommend on the trip home or even between sessions).

    The social events are great as well. I’ve been to one of the first SEOmoz events (related to Distilled) and my colleagues usually attend LinkLove / Searchlove in the Boston area. It’s great to meet some of the experts in real life and talk about experiences and perspective.

  2. Image of Joby Blume Joby Blume says:

    Yep, definitely overwhelming. Friendly, but overwhelming.

    It did feel a bit like SEO was starting to converge with ‘Inbound Marketing’ – and it’s really interesting to note that Moz and HubSpot are using the phrase so heavily. I think they are even ‘swapping’ speakers at their events next month.

    SEO has always had a reputation as being a bit impenetrable, but marketing for a small business is critical. But yes, identifying the need to make an effort, and actually knowing where to start are pretty different.

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