This was my view on Friday morning:
Yes, you read that right. The clock says 5.35. That’s 5.35am. Anyone that knows me knows I am not a ‘morning person’. So what could possibly have driven me to, for the first time in a long time, get up before all my children?
The answer: BrightonSEO. In short, the best SEO conference there is.
Slides & videos
You can get all the slidedecks (as they’re available) from SiteVisibility here: BrightonSEO slides – September 2017
Actionable tips and advice
I did not video it and I did not collate all the links to the slides – so what value can I add? My ‘content team’ of one didn’t even get my round-up piece out within a few days.
However, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t an aspiration for Optimisey, to one day, be as awesome as BrightonSEO.
What I love about BrightonSEO and what I want the focus of Optimisey to be is actionable advice. I want people to come to Optimisey to leave thinking: “When I get back to the office I’m going to do that.”
So what gave me that feeling from this year’s BrightonSEO?
Faster, better, more
The fourth session I went to was probably the one from which I left with the most “I’m going to try that…” notes.
It was the session on AMP, if you’re looking for the slides.
The first speaker was Aleyda Solis, on the strengths and weakness of AMP (accelerated mobile pages).* [see ‘Update’ below]
That was followed by Jon Henshaw and given the title of his talk was “Forget AMP. Make fast sites!” it was an intriguing double-header.
To be fair to Aleyda, a few people presented it as a head-to-head.
Aleyda was not arguing against making faster sites, nor that AMP was a silver-bullet to all speed issues.
However, Jon’s talk really struck a chord with me – aided by the fact he was (like almost all the BrightonSEO presenters) a great speaker.
Setting the AMP Scene
Jon kicked off by outlining why AMP had been invented. Because we (digital marketers) have “ruined the internet”.
We’ve filled it up with so much junk and ads and pop-ups, it now runs too slowly. Ergo, enter AMP.
He also opined that AMP is “Google-centric” and effectively handing too much (even more?) power to Google.
Using examples like Forbes, he showed that AMP is not a silver bullet to slow sites and bad UX (user experience) with the Forbes example page riddled with ads and irritating elements which distract the reader from their main goal: reading the content.
He cited Vice News as an example of a news site which does this much better, is fast and usable – all without AMP.
Make your Site Faster
Then came the solid, practical tips on how to actually make your site(s) faster:
- Work on fonts with your designer – some Google fonts look great but are slow to load – compromise on design and speed
- Make use of SRCSET on images – serve a different image for different screen widths (not just the same image but smaller)
- Consider caching content – e.g. don’t make your users re-load the same elements over and over as they browse your site
Jon then provided a host of shortlinks (ideal for my keyboard-smoking note taking!) to tips, tools and plug-ins to help speed up your site:
Tools to speed up your site
- raven.link/srcsetwp – a WordPress plug-in to help with SRCSET for image optimisation
- raven.link/imageoptim – Open Source project to help optimise images (for Mac)
- raven.link/imgoptwp – a WordPress plug-in to help with image compression
- raven.link/rocket – WP Rocket, another WordPress plug-in: good for cacheing and site speed
- raven.link/gzip – compress your code to speed things up
- raven.link/gtest – handy tool for checking your gzip compression implementation
- raven.link/freessl – step-by-step on how to use Cloudflare to get free SSL and free HTTP2
Sadly, Optimisey doesn’t (yet) pay my bills – so I’ve been trying some of these things out but nowhere I can show you (not without – probably – breaching my contact terms and conditions) but I’m certainly planning to put them into action on optimisey.com and will share the results when I do.
There was something else said in that same session which made me remember that you mustn’t believe all you hear.
I hate being ‘that guy’ and picking holes in the presentations of people with the guts and skills to talk at BrightonSEO but… the tip was: “AMP pages should canonical to the original, non-AMP version and for your non-AMP page, canonical to the AMP.”
I’m no AMP expert but I’m pretty sure that’s a ‘link loop’ – one page saying to Google “This is the original” and then that page is saying “No, that’s the original.”
Bad idea. Be careful which advice you listen to and question everything. Better yet, test it for yourself.
Keywords and Content
Another session I got a lot out of was Dom Woodman’s on site architecture.
Dom spoke (with no small amount of good humour) about matching keywords to pages.
He too provided a great shortlink to a really useful tool I’ve put on my ‘to do’ list: bit.ly/page-to-keyword.
That tool is a really handy way to ‘mind map’ what your keywords are, which keywords you’d like and what content you have.
This can then help you better match-up your content to those keywords – or spot holes in your content where you don’t have content that matches up well.
Dom used some great, real life examples, from sites he’d worked on to really bring this to life.
It was also refreshing to see Dom acknowledge that organic (and SEO) is not always the answer (shocking, I know) with slides like this one.
More than that, its helpful to know that and to use that to focus your efforts on SEO and content most effectively.
Killing the cruft
In the same session was Dawn Anderson – one of the speakers I was looking forward to seeing most.
She didn’t disappoint.
Dawn’s session was around site ‘cruft’ e.g. all the junk and rubbish you have on your site that’s weighing it down.
The myth of “New site equals no history!” was also dismissed.
Dawn cited Google’s John Mueller himself pointing out that Google has “a lot of storage space” – meaning they remember stuff (e.g. pages you think you’ve ‘deleted’) for a long, long time.
As you’d expect, there were some solid tips on what you can actually do about it – but I’ll leave you to pore over Dawn’s slides if you want to know more.
Blowing my Mind
It wouldn’t be the same at BrightonSEO unless at least one of the sessions blew my mind and left me with the distinct impression I have lot more to learn.
Step forward Peter Nikolow.
Peter’s session was called ‘Quick and Dirty Server-side tweaks to improve your SEO’.
I can confirm they may have been quick and easy if your brain is as big as Peter’s – but for the rest of us, maybe not so much!
Peter talked about optimising data bases. Pointing out flaws in even the very fundamental connections between servers which, having been designed many years ago, still run on assumptions that technology is also several years old. It’s not, so you can tweak things to make sites faster.
There were definite synergies with Peter’s session and Jon Henshaw’s (above) on speed.
I definitely made lots of notes and can hopefully have some fruitful discussions with the server team at work – who are more likely to be able to understand what Peter was talking about!
Tag Manager & Tools
The second session of the day was also a good one. It’s the “Onsite” one if you’re following on the slide decks.
It was also a bit of a Francophone take over – with Chloé Bodard, Sébastien Monnier and the tri-lingual France-based Turk Aysun Akarsu.
Fix your stuff
Things like 301 redirect loops, 302s when you should use 301s, broken canonicals etc.
There were also some forehead slapping moments, common errors such as:
- sites not blocking their staging sites (so they then appear in Google search results)
- canonicals pointing to 404 error pages
- canonicals pointing to relative pages (they should be the full URL – https:// warts and all)
- sorting out your sitemaps
Tag Manager Tips
Sébastien talked Google Tag Manager.
My favourite moment of his talk was when the SEO sages around me who all felt they knew ‘GTM’ pretty well – all sat up and re-opened their laptops when Sébastien demonstrated how you can use the tool to dynamically alter page titles and meta data.
It should be pointed out (and Sébastien did) that this is not the ideal approach. It’s far better to do things properly in the code – but GTM can be a handy way to side-step the development queue (and delays) to try a few things out, get some results and then go back to your developers with more weight behind your “We should do this.” arguments.
There was also some other ‘great idea’ moments – like using GTM to pass additional data into your Google Analytics (GA).
Things like canonicals, H1s, meta data etc. can all be passed into GA. Enabling you to see in your usual reporting dashboards how any changes to these things have affected traffic and engagement.
For example, when you changed the H1 on your key landing page, you may have a note about when you did that – but wouldn’t it be easier if GA knew that? GTM can do that.
Round up and fencing
In summary, it was another fantastic BrightonSEO.
The concluding event was an interview/Q&A with Google’s Gary Illyes.
I certainly did not envy the interviewer, Jennifer Slegg, who had the unenviable task of trying to draw information out of an interviewee who is extremely wary of saying too much and acutely aware that everything he did say would be analysed in minute detail.
It was fun to watch the fencing though. Parry, thrust etc.
The above is just a ‘highlights’ package – there was a lot more besides.
Duane Forrester’s talk in the opening session (second speaker on in that mammoth Authoritias video I linked to at the top). He spoke a lot of great sense about voice search, video and YouTubers. Duane’s slides are definitely worth a look.
Something which made the conference even better for me this time was throwing myself more fully into the networking.
It may sound odd, given I’m organising my own SEO networking event in Cambridge, but I’m not that great at networking.
However, with Optimisey to talk about and my hunger to get great speakers to come to my events – I went for it.
And it was terrific. I met loads of great people from all over the country and continent. I learned a lot from them too and, hopefully, made some good friends and connections that will help make Optimisey even better.
Update: 24th September
This morning I awoke to find Tweets about this very post from Aleyda Solis herself!
After getting over the shock that an SEO superstar read my blog, I re-read her messages a few times. Unfortunately Aleyda wasn’t thrilled with how I’d represented her talk on AMP.
Firstly (as I said to Aleyda) it was never my intention to annoy anyone – especially someone whom I respect a great deal and have learned a lot from.
Secondly, I’d also recommend getting stuff first hand yourself if you can, so here are Aleyda’s slides.
As those slides say, even the ‘best’ solution (to any SEO issue) may not suitable for all sites so read, learn, test and improve yourself.
Part of the issue was my use of the word “extolling” which, on reflection was perhaps a little heavy-handed. Definition: ‘praise enthusiastically’ (it was in where I now say “strengths and weaknesses” above).
If anyone read my piece as making Aleyda out to be some kind of ‘AMP fan-girl’ they got the wrong end of the stick.
As Aleyda said herself, her talk appraises AMP as a far from an ideal solution that has some upsides and some downsides (e.g. for legacy sites with serious mobile speed issues). With Google’s dominance of the search market, especially in the News sector (and lots of sites still struggling to make their sites faster) adopting AMP can make a lot sense.
Hope that clears up any confusion.
Cambridge SEO MeetUp
Keen to sample some SEO networking goodness for yourself? If you’re based in and around Cambridge and want to learn more about SEO and how to get your business to the top of Google (and Bing!) come along to our free Optimisey MeetUps:
How was it for you?
Did you go to BrightonSEO? What was your favourite session? Do you disagree with my verdict/takeaways from any of the above? What was the best talk I missed?
Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you,