SearchLove Was in the Air in Boston

September 13, 2017

It seems there’s always a digital marketing conference going on somewhere, but few were as eagerly anticipated as SearchLove Boston 2014 was. The thoroughly charming folks at Distilled assembled a truly diverse lineup of speakers for the event – a roster of search and digital marketing talent that certainly didn’t disappoint.

searchlove boston

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a week since we gathered at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph B. Martin Conference Center for the event, and perhaps even harder to believe that I failed to get this write-up finished sooner. C’est la vie.

Although I’ve no doubt many of you were hanging on my every word on Twitter during the conference, here’s a round-up of some of my favorite sessions.

Day One

Although Distilled’s Founder and Chief Marketing Officer Will Critchlow wryly poked fun at the title of his keynote presentation (“The Golden Age of Digital Marketing”), he very astutely pointed out that all signs suggest that we truly are poised at the frontier of a bold new era in search. He also impressed the audience by delivering his keynote without relying on a deck – bravo, sir.

After explaining why search is likely to become a marketing juggernaut in the coming years, he handed over to the first of the day’s speakers, Matthew Brown of Moz.

Matthew Brown, Moz

In the first session of SearchLove Boston, Moz’s Senior Vice President of Special Projects, Matthew Brown, took to the stage with a cautionary tale of why learning from the behavior – and mistakes – of “the herd” is essential to SEOs and digital marketers today.

Brown wasted no time illustrating how true innovation in search is a precious commodity these days – an endeavor that few marketers have the courage (or ingenuity) to attempt.

#searchlove @MatthewJBrown We’re no longer innovating. We’re just waiting for Matt Cutts or Google to tell us what to do

— Overit (@overit) April 7, 2014

Google’s brutal judgment of sites using link manipulation, and many marketers’ frantic reactionary response, certainly wasn’t lost on many attendees at Matthew’s session:

Instead of us thinking about the future, we're messing around with link removal #searchlove #seofails

— Morgan Kelly Burke (@morgankburke) April 7, 2014

Brown also touched on how content creation was rapidly becoming a priority for independent and in-house SEOs, and noted that “traditional” SEO activities like link-building (just one tactic that Brown referred to as “Old Testament SEO”) weren’t even on the radar.

#Content creation still relatively low priority for agencies vs. in-house teams/indies - @MatthewJBrown #searchlove

— Dan Shewan (@danshewan) April 7, 2014

As you’d expect from Moz, Matthew’s presentation was backed up by lots of data and analysis, all of which can be seen in his deck from the conference. Also, Brown wins extra points for including a slide from the seriously underrated 1983 Matthew Broderick movie, “War Games.”

Rick Backus, CPC Strategy

The next highlight of SearchLove’s first day was a presentation by CPC Strategy’s Founder Rick Backus. As well as delivering a quality talk on the importance of inbound marketing, Rick also managed to look a lot like Ben Affleck from where I was sitting at the back of the auditorium, which made it even more entertaining (and somewhat surreal).

@CPC_Rick great job at #searchlove Ben whoops I mean Rick. pic.twitter.com/CynxYGVbtc

— Todd Cruikshank (@toddcruik) April 9, 2014

After leading with an endearingly self-deprecating anecdote of how he started his career in sales, Rick immediately got to work by giving us a history of how CPC Strategy’s content efforts have led to strong growth in both traffic and revenue. Rick explained how CPC Strategy goes about planning and writing blog posts, and how his company uses personas when devising new content projects – something that many larger sites fail to do.

Rick also took a subtle dig at much of the “thought leadership” that surrounds the marketing space by pointing out the difficulty – and necessity – of becoming a genuinely trusted authority within search without becoming a caricature (image taken from Mike Judge’s new satirical HBO show, “Silicon Valley”).

If the content CPC Strategy produces is as good as Rick’s presentation at SearchLove, it’s little wonder the company has been able to grow so quickly. You can check out Rick’s deck here.

Aaron Weyenberg, TED

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Aaron Weyenberg’s talk. Admittedly, it seemed like the black sheep of the lineup, but something about the premise intrigued me. As it turns out, Aaron’s talk was my favorite of the whole conference.

Aaron’s presentation focused around the redesign of TED’s online presence – not exactly an inconsequential undertaking for an immediately recognizable global brand. At the heart of the redesign project was user experience, Aaron’s area of expertise.

Just as Rick needs to truly understand who reads CPC Strategy’s content, the concept of knowing and understanding audience was central to TED’s redesign efforts. Aaron explained that he and his team identified several unique archetypes among TED’s audience, which provided them with a starting point for presenting not just TED talks, but relevant blog content.

Understanding these audience archetypes enabled Aaron and his team to prioritize content according to what each type of person considers to be TED’s most valuable content. It also allowed them to make judgment calls on features that would only appeal to a narrow subsection of TED’s audience and design the site in a way that felt responsive and relevant to a large user base.

Overall, Aaron’s presentation was a fascinating glimpse into how knowing your audience is (or should be) central to any content project.

Day Two

There were more than a few bleary-eyed folks lining up for pastries and coffee before Day Two kicked off, thanks to the free drinks provided at the Distilled party at the Baseball Tavern. However, that didn’t stop attendees from packing the auditorium for the first of Day Two’s presentations, which came courtesy of none other than Rand Fishkin.

Rand Fishkin, Moz

Rand’s presentation, “Why Great Marketers Must Be Great Skeptics,” wasn’t just characteristically entertaining – it was also remarkably refreshing. Rather than clamoring to get in on The Next Big Thing™ or trending bandwagon, Rand advised that marketers should take stock of what’s actually being said and examine things through the lens of evidence – in other words, be skeptical.

As you’d expect from Moz, Rand’s presentation used several real case studies from Moz (as well as data from Larry’s recent post about conversion rates) and went into great depth about why A/B testing is so important. Rand also provided several examples of how even well-intentioned (yet flawed) assumptions can be very dangerous for marketers.

In a way, it was kind of unfair for the folks at Distilled to schedule Rand’s presentation for the start of the second day, simply because it was such a tough act to follow. Check out Rand’s deck for ways you can become an awesome skeptic – just like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Scientology & Astrology. Just because you can append an “-ology” to a word, does not make it based in objective reality.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 3, 2014

Rob Toledo, Distilled

Any marketer who has ever courted industry publications will be familiar with the endless struggle of trying to get editors and journalists to read – and act on – a pitch. Writers, editors and other influencers are bombarded with an onslaught of email every day, making it increasingly difficult for marketers (even those with an interesting story) to make their voices heard. Rob Toledo, Distilled’s Head of Outreach, offered up some advice about this challenge in his presentation, “The Hunter/Gatherer.”

During his highly entertaining talk, Rob outlined his theory of why getting influencers’ attention is so hard – namely, because people want to discover things for themselves. From a marketer’s perspective, Rob likened this to the movie “Inception” – we have to plant the idea in the minds of the influencers we want to, um, influence, but not take any credit for it.

Check out Rob’s deck to see some real-world examples of how some content producers managed to score major media exposure for their brand by cleverly manipulating this desire for discovery.

Margot Bloomstein, Appropriate, Inc.

Too many marketers think that creating a deluge of content will solve all their problems. This is not the case, and Margot Bloomstein shared similar sentiments in her presentation, “Slow Your Roll: Driving Results from Slow Content.”

Margot’s talk focused on the fact that slowing down the user experience through content can actually be a remarkably effective way of improving engagement and building a brand. This approach to content creation can also increase conversions, as it helps users explore and discover content for themselves, make deliberate decisions and focus their attention.

To see some examples of brands that accomplish this really well, and for other tips for slowing down your content strategy, take a look at Margot’s deck.

Alas, it seemed that SearchLove Boston 2014 was over as quickly as it began. Fortunately for everyone who couldn’t make it this time, Distilled will be hosting the next SearchLove event in beautiful San Diego, California, on September 11 and 12. You can find out more and buy tickets here.

I’d personally like to thank Distilled for their hard work and for putting on such an excellent conference – you guys rock. See you next year!

Dan Shewan

Dan Shewan

Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.

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