BrightonSEO has firmly established its reputation in the search marketing space during its 14-year history. But for me, 2023 was my first time at the event after some of my colleagues had attended in previous years and spoke about its magic.
As a relative newcomer, what struck me most was the breadth and depth of insights on offer. There were essential insights delivered by speakers from almost every corner of the marketing world - and they touched on some of the biggest topics we are all thinking about daily, from AI to sustainability.
These are my top five takes from the event. I think their utility goes beyond strictly SEO - there could be something here for any marketer who's wondering about the industry's future.
1. How to break out of the content cage
Catherine Jones delivered a talk on how to create stand-out content in the era of AI. I feel I’m in a notable position here as someone who started their marketing career at almost exactly the same time that AI rose to prominence. Being naturally keen to embrace and explore its possibilities, I eventually felt myself relying on AI for reassurance and idea creation. However, Catherine taught me that – without careful human curation – AI creates the ‘factory image’ of what content ‘should’ look like. Those who rely solely on AI for content writing, without thinking critically about their output, unpicking initial ideas and remembering the larger picture – are putting themselves into the content cage.
But how do we break out of the content cage? Catherine shared a quote from EO Wilson: ‘We’re drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.’ Human creativity is the key to making what matters stand out. We must not be afraid to go against ‘best practice’, take time with idea generation, and rewrite content to perfect technique (small changes can make a big difference!). A comforting reminder for me was that creativity cannot be automated – for now at least!
2. Lurkers to leads with story effect optimization
Words can build the world… right? Pascalle Bergmans believes so, and now so do I!
Search engine optimization helps get eyes onto your page, but then what? As content writers, it is our job to convey emotions and point the reader in the right direction to make the decisions we want them to make. For this, it is important we can unlock storySELLING.
The assistance of AI makes it easier to create content that will have a large reach through knowing the right SEO formula. However, in her session at BrightonSEO, Pascalle argued that at the same time, the risk of losing authenticity and identity – two things audiences want to connect with – has increased.
Emotions inspire readers to act, whether that’s buying something, sharing something, signing up, or something else. Pascalle reinforced the importance of sparking more than just a connection with readers – we must follow a framework that turns ‘lurkers into leads’.
3. The importance of protecting thinking time
“We need some new ideas by tomorrow.”
This is something everyone in marketing has heard. You don’t need me to tell you that coming up with a unique campaign is hard and takes a lot of thinking time.
In her BrightonSEO talk, Katy Powell explored the factors that are cutting ideation time and stifling creativity. Today, there are tougher KPIs set, more competition, it is harder to cut through the noise, and there are more internal pressures to perform.
So, how do we tackle this? Ideation should be enshrined as a core part of the process: Ideation > Execution > More Knowledge > and back to ideation. We must focus on these critical areas:
- Spend time on research; understand common themes and analyse your target audience.
- Understand what your target publications cover.
- Remind yourself that your brand’s audience will consume campaigns, but they may not be that excited about your core offering.
- Figure out what the ‘imaginative’ offering would be versus the obvious; crafting the campaign with flair will be more likely to gain attention from media and consumers.
A major take I took from this talk was that we should avoid perfection paralysis; no idea is a bad idea as long as you’ve given time to understand the how and why! We must remember to protect our thinking time, not to stop at the first idea, and use our imagination.
4. Tackling keyword cannibalisation
First, what is keyword cannibalisation? It means when you have various webpages or articles on your site that can rank for the same search query in the search engine.
Charlie Whitworth delivered a talk on how to tackle keyword cannibalisation and dominate the SERPs; he explained that URLs on the same domain begin to compete for organic non-brand rankings, confusing search engines and creating SERP flux.
If you were to aim specifically for traffic to your website, this wouldn’t be a major issue. However, in the long term, you will be splitting the CTR, diverting your audience, and hurting the individual performance of each webpage. As a result, this dilutes the visibility and performance of all pages, hampering overall SEO performance.
Charlie provided a checklist on how to resolve keyword cannibalisation:
- Audit: Is keyword cannibalisation an issue for your site?
- Prune out any duplicate, similar, thin or low-engagement URLs.
- Cluster your keywords: merge and consolidate wherever possible based on search data, search intent and the SERPs.
- Fill in your content gaps, not by creating URLs for every keyword but by optimising for clusters and entities. Keep an eye on PDP vs PLP.
- Don’t over-optimise for money keywords; you don’t need 20 blogs on a topic.
5. How to make SEO sustainable
Did you know that SEO can play a role in the fight against climate change? 3.7% of global emissions are caused by the internet and communications industry. That’s only 0.2% less than the aviation industry.
Climate change is overwhelming, and sometimes, it is easy to feel like we can’t do anything about it. Ellie Connor delivered an insightful talk on ‘How to measure SEO sustainability’, with shocking statistics that made me think.
The global carbon footprint of Google search is equivalent to 7 return trips to the moon per day. Ellie also explained that as traffic grows, internet carbon emissions will double by 2030.
It is our duty to take action, but how? We can’t stop our reliance on the internet, but one thing we can control is how much energy is spent on search, and by lowering our energy usage we also reduce water waste and carbon emissions. We should think about:
- Reducing energy needed to load a page
- Reducing users’ number of page loads
- Making bot crawls easier
Ellie’s talk was a great reminder that a good SEO strategy is a sustainable strategy. When measuring SEO sustainability, we should calculate website sustainability, identify key sustainability gains, fix energy efficiencies on the site, and then REPEAT!
Overall, it was an action-packed few days on the coast filled with bountiful opportunities to learn and develop my skill set. In particular, I’m excited to put into action the ideas on how AI is being used by great minds in the industry, with a near-universal emphasis on maintaining a human-first approach. It allowed me to find comfort in the quality-over-quantity mindset of the speakers.
Learning is good for the soul – and for our reach!