The SEO Summit 2014: Key Takeaways

SEO Summit 2014

On June 21st, 2014, team GDI attended The SEO Summit 2014 at the Alpha Tent in Makati City. The event was organized by SEO Hacker and it was attended by some 350 SEOs, marketers and entrepreneurs. The Summit’s theme was “SEO Secrets We Don’t Usually Blog About” and it featured Philippine SEO luminaries Sean Si, Jason Acidre and Benj Arriola.

The event was nicely put together, very professional, highly informative and full of opportunities to network with industry peers. While sitting out front and listening to speakers, I had seven mini-epiphanies that I believe everyone whether they’re employees, freelancers or business owners. Here they are:

1. Skills = Good. Teaching Skills = Even Better – Being skilled at what you do, whether it’s SEO, writing, analytics or SEM is a great thing. It keeps you employed and it helps drive revenue for your company. The thing is, practically anyone can learn a skill and profit from it. People who take that skill and use it for goals beyond monetary compensation, on the other hand, are few and far between.

It’s cool to grow in your field of expertise and make good money while you do it. However, touching lives and leaving a legacy behind are much loftier goals in life’s grand scale of accomplishments. Benj, Jason and Sean are the most respected people in the SEO community for a reason: these guys don’t confine their skills to their offices. They actually go out there and share what they know so we can all benefit from it. Through blog posts, social media activity and speeches, these men have become prime influencers in how Filipinos do digital marketing. A lot of us are doing better SEO these days because they opened up instead of staying boxed in.

Bottom line: if you have the skills and the expertise but you aren’t blogging or talking in events, you need to get out of your office and get some fresh air. The local scene can use more people like you and you can make a positive difference if you just choose to. And trust me, opening up and sharing doesn’t go unrewarded: you and your business will indirectly benefit from the good will, reputation and connections that come along with being a respected figure in your industry.

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2. It’s Okay to Have a Black Hat Past. I’m all for white hat SEO and playing fair. Google has reached a point of sophistication where black hat SEO is simply not a viable business option anymore. This is a great development because we’re at a point where the really good sites are in a much better position to beat the cheaters ranking-wise.

However, I’ve observed that there’s a certain degree of arrogance coming from the white hat community towards people who’ve done black hat SEO in the past. The label seems to stick even when a former black hat guy is striving to turn around and jump to the white hat camp. That, to me, is unfair and it doesn’t do any good for the community as a whole.

That’s why I think it’s really cool that Benj talked about black hat tricks that he tried on his personal sites in the distant past. It sends the message that having dabbled into black hat SEO in the past doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a cheater for life. It just means you were either experimenting, misguided, desperate or lazy at a point in your SEO career. If you’ve made the decision to walk away from that, you deserve credit and not ridicule.

Benj was brilliant in his presentation because he gave us a better outlook on what black hat SEO is, why it’s not a sustainable approach and why you should rethink your methods if you’re engaged in it to this day.

SEO Summit group

 

3. The Only Way You Fail is if You Don’t Try – The beauty of the digital marketing industry is that it’s one of the most open and rewarding career fields that you can enter regardless of your age, gender, nationality, educational background or financial status. You can be in your 40s, you can have no college degree and you can be a guy who doesn’t like working with a shirt on and still be a winner in this industry. It’s that inclusive, it’s that open and it has that much potential. The only reason why you can’t succeed in it is if you don’t start taking risks and give it a shot.

If you’ve ever thought about learning SEO but you hesitated because you felt you didn’t have what it takes, you should read about the backgrounds of the Summit’s speakers. Each of them came from a different background but all of them were able to land atop the local SEO scene’s ladder.

I met Sean when he was an intern at a local BPO. After he graduated, he learned SEO and pushed towards his goal of becoming a successful entrepreneur. At around the same time, Jason was a professional gamer who knew he’d be successful one day but just didn’t know how or when it would happen. Benj, on the other hand, started out as a chemist, moved on to become a web developer, learned SEO and eventually won in international contests. The rest, as they say, is history for the three of them as each one took distinct paths towards becoming SEO bigwigs.

If you want to follow where these three went, the first step is to stop thinking of the reasons why it can’t happen. Instead, focus on the reasons why you can make it work, formulate a strategy and put in as much work as you can when it’s time to execute.

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4. There Aren’t Many Pastures Greener than Digital Marketing – Question: which other industry doesn’t care about your educational background, what your grades were, requires no board exam, offers competitive income and allows you to start your own business with practically no capital? Now, combine that with exponential year-over-year growth, increasing service demands from abroad and the fact that there are practically no hazards involved. There’s just no denying the digital marketing is a vast and exciting new frontier fir the average Filipino who’s looking for a career path that can change his life for the better. If you’re in this industry right now, consider yourself very blessed because not everyone enjoys the same things you do.

I’m not saying the industry is perfect. If anything, it’s like the push of settlers to the American West a few centuries back. There are monumental opportunities that we can capitalize on, but there’s also no central governing body that can keep everyone honest. As such, we all have the responsibility of uplifting the Philippine digital marketing industry’s image with how we conduct ourselves business-wise. Ethical practices, proper treatment of clients and respect towards our industry peers are prime values that we should all consistently uphold.

In the end, the industry will only stay as good as the behavior of the people in it. If we operate based solely with profit in mind, we can expect the landscape to turn bad in a hurry. If we keep it clean, then the projections of sustained growth will likely come into fruition.

SEO Summit hall

 

5. If Your Strategy Isn’t Content-Centric, You’ve Got a Big Problem – If you listened to all three speakers in this event, you’ll realize that all of them champion the use of content to drive your online marketing strategy. Jason illustrated in his talk how he rose from small beginnings to international prominence with his blog Kaiserthesage. By writing comprehensive, detailed blog posts that taught people how to build links the right way, he set himself apart from the rest of the SEO blogging herd and got himself noticed by some of the industry’s biggest names.

Benj, on the other hand, talked about black hat tactics that don’t work anymore. While that doesn’t directly deal with content development and marketing, it gives us a  nice perspective on what has been taken away by Google from black hat practitioners to give legitimate content creators more visibility in its SERPs. His discussion was excellent because it helps SEOs realize that no matter how sophisticated you think your scalable link building tactics are, Google is bound to notice and put its foot down at some point.

Of the three speakers, Sean delved most heavily on the importance of content. I like that he educated the audience on the value of not letting your content’s reach get restricted by your own site’s confines. Social media, mailing lists and live events are all powerful channels for releasing content that will inform, empower and influence your target audience.

My conclusion: if you’re still looking for ways to do SEO with gimmicky and scalable tactics, you’re flirting with disaster. Creating and promoting great content is not the cheapest and easiest investment you can make. However, it’s the most future-proof strategy that you can adapt if your goal is long-term success for your brand. Keep in mind that the moment a business goes online, it becomes a media entity in its own right. It has the capability to publish its own content in whatever fashion it wants to. That content is exactly what you’ll be using to attract your audience, keep them engaged and build a following that will drive your business regardless of your standing in search engine rankings.

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6. If You Don’t Network in Events, You’re Selling Yourself Short – Here’s a tip for getting your ,money’s worth when you’re attending conferences: get off your seat and start talking to people you didn’t already know. As brilliant as the speakers were in the SEO Summit, there were some equally amazing SEOs and marketers in attendance. Sam Nam, JJ Pike, Jean-Pierre Prieto, Gary Viray, Arvin Buising, Grant Merriel and dozens of others were there and they were busy socializing with other smart people in the business. If you didn’t get to talk to any of these people, I suggest you look for them in the next conferences you attend because you’ll learn so much even with casual chatter.

The speakers themselves will tell you this: knowing what to do in SEO is only half the fight. Knowing people and being in their good graces makes our work easier, faster and infinitely more fulfilling. Getting to know just one person opens doors to meeting everyone on their network. This is very handy when you’re hiring, trying to promote a cause, trying to solve a problem or if you just want to hang out with a smart crowd on a boring weekend.

Case in point: I met one of the smartest PPC managers in the Philippines, Kurt Flores, during SEMCON 2010. Through Kurt, I met Sam, which led to me meeting Jason, which led to me meeting JP, Gary and other great people in the industry who influenced my mindset and the way I do business. There’s no direct revenue from making friends, but the impact of doing so is priceless.

7. Sometimes, it’s Just a Matter of Packaging – Ever wonder why PR and ad agencies that don’t specialize in SEM or SEO win the most lucrative contracts from the biggest corporations? In reality, a small, rag-tag startup team of real SEOs can probably out-think, out-write and out-hustle the average PR firm. Yet, the PR firms usually win the contract battles while us smaller operators are left scratching our heads in frustration..

The answer is simple: the perception of risk is the single biggest factor that prevents people from saying yes to our calls to action. If a company that you sent a proposal to feels there’s a chance that they might end up wasting their time and money on you, they’ll start looking at other options. The idea here is to make them feel secure about choosing you and there are several elements that you can influence to make your prospects feel that way.

SEO Summit AMA

 

Brand image, social proof, soft skills and aesthetic touches can make all the difference when you’re trying to acquire a client. Sean talked about how SEO Hacker makes sure that its reports, proposals, presentations and other visuals all follow a nice, consistent design. When you think about it, that statement makes complete sense because if you were the potential client, being handed eye-pleasing collaterals implies that you’re valued, taken seriously and cared about. If you get handed something that looks very amateur-ish, it sends all the signals that the kind of service you’ll get moving forward will also be less than stellar. Bottom line: invest in good, smart design for all your assets.

Being honest, responsible, ethical and helpful are keys towards building a positive brand image whether you’re an individual or an organization. That entails maintaining a professional and ethical work environment, associating yourself with the right people and treating people in your industry with respect. Combine that with having genuinely good products and your brand should stay strong in the eyes of your target market.

Social proof is usually a byproduct of strong and positive branding. It happens when prominent people and organizations in your industry acknowledge you, your products and how you conduct yourself as a brand. Social proof is essential in pitching successful proposals because it shows your prospects that you’re a credible service provider who’s trusted in your field of expertise.

Soft skills are all about maintaining high levels of poise and grace in whatever type of communications you engage in. Being polite, fair and composed while you’re negotiating, answering questions or responding to complaints is a hallmark of a mature organization. That doesn’t mean you should say yes to anything a client throws at you. There are politically correct ways of saying no and disagreeing with clients.

Alright, those are my (almost) random thoughts on the SEO Summit 2014. Overall, it was a fantastic event and I’m looking forward to another one next year.