BrightonSEO – Punching Above Your Weight: From Almost Nowhere, to Beating the Big Names

On Friday 2nd October 2020 I was honoured to speak at BrightonSEO. Despite COVID-19 impacting the conference, meaning it had to be held online, over 12,000 attendees signed up to the conference.

If you didn’t make the talk, or want to view the slides again, I thought it would be helpful to share my slide deck and accompanying transcript.

My Slide Deck

Talk Transcript

Hi, I’m Nat.

I’m an SEO Consultant – both in house and freelance! Some might say I have the best of both worlds. I’m based here in Brighton, in the UK I’m missing being here at the Brighton Centre – bet you all are too!

In the past I’ve worked with and for a number of brands – as you can see and expect from the brands on here, SEO and Digital Marketing budgets, alongside those for branding and other trad marketing channels really does vary.

Small Budgets … Do They Really Suck?

Today I’m going to speak to you about punching above your weight. In terms of this, it won’t be something temporary, and it won’t be super short term. However, making sure you get what you need done, is incredibly important for growth. But how do you get it done? How do you prioritise tasks, get stakeholder buy ins, grow, and train a team?

I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learnt so far in my SEO career, and hoping you’ll be able to take at least something away with you today – even if it’s a new game or some property inspiration!

I want to make sure that you are aware that small budget SEO might not mean that you’re a small brand or have a small site. This presentation aims to help those with small budgets, that are small to medium sized brands, but this does not reflect on the size of a site. You could have a site with a million plus pages but a small budget and tiny team like one of the current sites I’m managing. Or you could be a small in house team working on a small to medium sized site – where I refer to small, I don’t always mean an SME with one person working on a small brochure site.

Starting Small Can be Daunting, but also Advantageous

I like to see it as room to grow and to help a site reach its full potential. You’ll see that I’ve got a running theme in this presentation – Animal Crossing. When you play Animal Crossing you start off with pretty much just yourself and a tent, but you really can build and create something rather wonderful if you put in the effort.

Don’t Fear Going ‘Back to Basics’

Going back to basics can be incredibly beneficial – no matter how far you are in your SEO career. Let’s take a look at what you need to have a good website:

  • Good content – pages, blog posts, hub pages, link worthy content, FAQs pages, conversion pages etc etc
  • Crawlable, indexable site
  • Good site structure
  • Easy to navigate
  • Great UX
  • Branding
  • Calls to action
  • Trust (including a  brilliant backlink profile)
  • Great speed

This can be overwhelming when you have a small team, small budget, little support from other teams and stakeholders. But you can do this, I believe in you!

Craft Things Your Way

Not every website is going to be built in the same way – and that’s good. Every business has different markets and as with all things in SEO – it depends.

Whether it’s crafting a website, a Digital PR campaign, a content hub or another type of project, things will vary depending on your business. So enjoy it. Take advantage of what makes your business unique. Obviously you need to keep in mind what makes a good website – from a search and beyond position Maybe you have great Technical SEO already and want to build out your content or backlink profile, or maybe you’ve got great content that’s not performing as well due to lack of accessibility to search engines and users.

Find out What Makes Your Business or Client Unique

  • Location
  • Product Offering
  • Brands & Brand Partnerships
  • Ways to Pay
  • Your Team
  • … or something else!

Location

Despite looking like the top-secret underground lair of a villain bent on world domination, this is actually the office and data center for Swedish internet service provider, Banhof. Their office was originally built as an atomic bomb shelter below the streets of Stockholm. Nowadays the Banhof office uses waste heat from Banhof’s servers to sustainably warm the office.

Product Offering

The Vegan Kind Product offering – started off with lifestyle subscription, added beauty, then supermarket, and now adding even more! They aim to stock every vegan product in Europe!

Brands and Collaborations

Ikea, Cath Kidston, Valentino and Marc Jacobs on Animal Crossing – unofficial partnerships which saw some great links and coverage.

Partnering up with a bigger brand which you already have a relationship is super helpful They have the budget you’d DREAM of, but they also want your content! Whether it’s reviews, co-marketing, a competition, a case study – there’s so much that can be mutually beneficial. It’s great to: Build brand recognition Get coverage and links Expand keyword portfolio

BEWARE OF COLLAB FATIGUE – people get bored of seeing partnership after partnership, especially if it’s TOO irrelevant.

In order to be truly ground-breaking and relevant, be original.

Team GB, TikTok and British Red Cross

Since the Olympics couldn’t go ahead this year due to COVID, Team GB collaborated with TikTok for the #isolationgames in order to raise money for the British Red Cross The campaign got great coverage, over 1.3 billion views of hashtagged content on TikTok itself, alongside other social channels

Burger King and TESLA Hijack

Burger King figured out that Tesla Autopilot’s new “Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control” feature can confuse Burger King signs for stop signs and they quickly turned it into an ad campaign. The fast-food chain only ran the campaign for a day encouraging people to post to social media the same Autopilot mistake, which they frame as the Autopilot’s artificial intelligence wanting to stop at Burger King. They encouraged people with “smart cars” to take pictures of the same behaviour and share with the hashtag #AutopilotWhopper or #FreeWhopper in order to receive a code for a free burger I wouldn’t say this was a true partnership as such, but leveraged an opportunity.

Morrisons and Deliveroo

Morrisons showed great adaptability at the start of lockdown by partnering with Deliveroo to offer grocery delivery using the Deliveroo app – allowing people to order groceries as you would a pizza, rather than having to queue for delivery spots with rival supermarkets.

Ways to Pay

Not strictly SEO – but if you need customers to pay on your site – whether ecommerce, services etc – it is SO important that you offer a seamless checkout experience. Alongside this, offering the best way to pay for your customers and for your business type.

Did you know, for example, that sex tech brands aren’t allowed to use certain payment methods due to the “nature of their business”? Also, different locations around the world will have different primary payment methods – it would be fickle to assume that potential markets will all pay with Visa or Paypal. Offering the best ways for your audiences to pay helps conversions – but also offers you brand partnership coverage; which is helpful to not only you, but can make for great case studies for the payment providers!

Team Members

Everyone in a team has their strengths and weaknesses. You don’t want to go to work and not enjoy the work that you do.

We are lucky to be able to work in an industry where most of us (if not all of us) enjoy what we do – not everyone has this privilege! What do we need in a team to make your SEO budget STRETCH? Do you have that capability in your team, or will you have to recruit, use freelancers etc? You might have really great technical SEO and Content skills, but have a gap for Link Building and Digital PR – this is where it’s glaringly obvious that you need to hire/outsource so that you have all aspects of SEO covered. Don’t be afraid about being the most intelligent person in the room, or in the team, especially if you’re a manager. Instead, you need to know what needs to be done, and who can do it the best, alongside being able to nurture and improve the skills and knowledge of your team, while ensuring that they aren’t hating their job!

Remember to always prioritise your tasks for your client and your team, rather than what people SAY you need to do. This can be difficult to do, which is why creating business cases can help.

Test, Test, Test!

As SEOs we need to do the same – test! Some of you might be in house with a small budget – you will still have your time to test. And be adaptable. If something isn’t working – say it’s a test and move on. Those of you in agencies with clients – if you’re able to spend some time testing things on all of your clients – not only can you use this to clients what can go right – you can always write or speak about your learnings on behalf of your agency or team.

Some testing will be pushing changes live and waiting to see what happens, and other times we might use testing software. Big tip – document your testing! Whether it’s successful or not this documentation and measurement can be used for personal and team development, use in talks such as those some of my fellow speakers are presenting today, as blog content, and more! If you want to know more about testing for SEO, I really recommend Emily Potter from SearchPilot’s talks on split testing for SEO – I’ve linked to a great one she presented for Deepcrawl earlier this year to the end of this presentation

Training

As a former teacher, training is SO important for me – and it should be for you, too Not just for new staff, or those new to SEO, but for everyone.

But how to do it? Do you invest your own time? Bring someone in? This will depend on your budget, time, and what’s available to you to bring in or buy Depending on your company you could do training on the job, run classes, or bring someone in.

There’s a wealth of material out there, but if you’re in charge of your team’s development as a manager – and/or your own, make sure to not get sucked down a rabbit hole with regards to training. We’re SEOs but our investigating shouldn’t just stop at the site, the market, and the competition – we need to continue to develop our knowledge and experience

External Factors

There are lots of external factors which could affect your visibility, funding, link acquisition, and things could even get litigious! Things to consider – reviews, the impact of staff behaviour, social media faux pas, angry former staff and customers… all kinds of things!

At minimum, you should always ensure that your brand has a crisis management plan. If you are small and competing with big brands, you need to remember that every now and then – they could get litigious. Don’t let that scare you off! Sometimes big brands don’t invest in SEO, or don’t understand it, and they think that *they* own the space where their brand lives. If you’re a smaller company reselling their product, unless there’s a clause in the reseller guidelines, you can compete organically with them; you’re still selling their product! Despite this, there have been times in the past where I’ve had big brands knocking on doors, angrily demanding that they will set legal on us because of our rankings. The last time that happened, we played ball, We partially removed their branding (which we were legally allowed to use, as a reseller), but even still, kept our rankings. They couldn’t do much else. Don’t be scared, but be wary.

Who are Your Allies?

As an SEO you could have lots of allies in a company. Some might see them as enemies at times, but you’ll find you’ll be working with the following:

  • Content PR (traditional and digital)
  • Developers
  • Account Managers
  • Customer Service
  • Business Development

Work with them, get to know them. Find out what makes them tick. Find out their pain points. Share yours. You might find something that really helps you. You’re all working together to reach the same ending – which is more money for your client or business.

Stakeholder Sell In

Who are you selling to? Is it senior management? The C suite? Your head of department? Dev leads? What are YOUR KPIs? What are THEIR KPIs? What do you need to prove – if anything? Graphs go up? Specific metrics? Leads? Conversions? Things like business cases might work with those who are commercially and financially minded. Time might work with others.

Find What You Can do Well – and Run With it!

I would say this applies to you as a person but also as your team and a business. That being said, if you’re lacking on any elements I covered earlier with regards to missing skillsets – please make sure to get those covered to ensure maximum growth.

Alternative Airlines SEO Growth

How can you get a small, flight search company to compete with the big brands? This is what we were facing with Alternative Airlines. Visibility was low, ranking was all over the place, lots of poor quality content and backlinks.

So what did we do? The management team knew they needed to sort SEO out to grow, so hired me to lead and grow the Marketing and Customer Acquisition Department.

This is what we did:

  • Tidied up the site – removed, consolidated and improved what content existed, made sure the site was as technically sound as possible
  • Content plan – made sure we had strategy behind our content ideas
  • Team collaboration – we worked together and weren’t afraid of delegation
  • Were 0pen to ideas
  • Dynamic – if something wasn’t working, we’d move onto the next task
  • Took advantage of partnership opportunities – payment providers, airlines etc
  • Jumped onto newsworthy issues and journalist requests
  • Created GREAT quality content that was better than the airlines and many of the other flight search engines, including some of the meta search companies. This meant that we were able to rank for – and gain relevant, converting traffic for, relevant terms.

As you can see from the Ahrefs visibility chart, the journey hasn’t always been perfect, but by building a talented, reactive team we were able to grow – and the team continues to grow the site’s visibility – despite the shocking situation for travel right now

Further Reading and Resources

Thank you to my friend Dom Graham for helping to make my slides look nicer than what they would on my own!

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