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UK SEO Census – 8 Bloggers (And Me) Under the Microscope

There’s only one thing I love more than SEO Interviews and that’s group interviews. So suddenly a bright idea flashed into my head, why not arrange a group interview here on our blog.

Not quite a complete census but it’s still pretty big - Creative Commons License credit: _sarch

So I went out and contacted eight of the UK’s most respected SEO bloggers and asked them a couple of questions. And out of total vanity I included myself as well.

Be warned there’s some great answers below but it’s a little on the long side so you might want to put the kettle on!

The luck people getting the grilling are:

Tom Critchlow from Distilled

Judith ‘deCabbit’ Lewis from SEO Chicks

Dixon Jones from Receptional

Ciaran Norris from Altogether Digital

Andrew R H Girwood from Big Mouth Media

Lyndon Antcliff from Cornwall SEO

Kevin Gibbon from SEOptimise

Simon Dance from Leapfrogg

And rather selfishly Kelvin Newman from Site Visibility

If you’re UK based and would like to leave your thoughts leave us a comment and I’ll include you in the post…

According to Andrew there are some people who seem to think the UK is year behind the States when it comes to advanced seo strategies, a legitimate concern or just misjudgment?

Tom Critchlow I actually agree with Andrew that in some ways the EU SEO community (and UK seo community in particular) are more aware of and more proficient at international and multi-lingual SEO since it is much more common to come across these issues. In particular, UK vs US geolocation is something we encounter on almost every SEO project.

Having said that – there are a lot of UK seo companies who are very behind the times (mentioning no names of course) which probably makes the UK as a whole look pretty backwards from an SEO perspective. Is that the same in the US? I suspect so but I don’t know for sure.

One thing we have seen however is that a lot fewer companies are switched on to current SEO tactics who approach us in the UK as opposed to the US. We’ve had the pleasure of working with a few US based companies and they are much more willing to embrace Web 2.0, social media and blogging etc than the UK companies we’ve worked with. Our sample size is obviously quite small however so it’s difficult to extrapolate this across the whole of the UK!

A particular area where I think the UK is behind the US is in online reputation management. We’re really just starting to see it become a hot topic in the UK where it’s been around for a bit longer in the US.

Judith ‘deCabbit’ Lewis I think Andrew’s point is a good one. He’s addressing the perception that given the presentations, the UK seemed to be lagging behind. SES London is not advertised as an advanced conference. People play their cards close to their chest. The hotel and bar at these events is where the deeper knowledge is gained – not in the sessions.

Google engineers and non-sales people were there in force though. That Google presence, more than anything else, spoke volumes to me of the higher quality and calibre this years SES was.

As an aside, I got a SEO-trainee in house here to go to SES and she got a huge amount from it. It helped bring her up to speed and gave her a running start on projects she needs to tackle in house. Each of us walked away with more knowledge – we just got it in different ways.

Dixon Jones Andrew’s assessment is fair. Technically we are in as strong – if not better place than the US. However, I believe where we remain behind is in the political will of the clients to buy into the needs of SEO hook line and sinker. At the moment, in-house company political shinnanigas is the order of the day, as non-technical traditional marketers remain in denial. That’s where the lag is – not in the ability of the UK SEOs.

Ciarán Norris Having just worked on a project which involved handover from a major US search agency, I can categorically say that we’re not behind the times. Are there more major SEOs in the US? Yes. Are there more people in the US in general? Yes. You do the maths. In many ways we’re actually ahead of the curve when it comes to the web and online marketing – I just think that the budgets over here are smaller.

Andrew R H Girdwood I think some European search engines are behind some American search engines and it just so happens that these search engines sometimes have market shares that are worth paying attention to – like Seznam. However, the SEOrs in these markets are just as good at English language SEO on Google.com as those SEOrs based in the US are. Attention to analytics, social media, universal search, user behaviour and multi-variant testing is as good in Europe as it is in America

Lyndon Antcliff There are some things that work in the UK and not in the US, however, it’s a fluid space and laying down definitive statements about what works here or what works over there is a little trite. I don’t think it matters too much unless you are in the technical or black hat trenches, which I am not.

End of the day, the difference really doesn’t effect what I do.

Kevin Gibbons I’d have to agree with Andrew on this one, the search markets have both similarities and differences but in my opinion the SEO strategies used the UK are just as advanced as the US.

The majority of A-list SEO bloggers/speakers come from the US which perhaps gives the impression the leading SEO’s are from the States. To a certain extent this is possibly true, but there are a lot of big search marketing agencies in the UK and the average SEO’s at these companies will all be reading Search Engine Land, SEW, SEOmoz etc and learning about the latest SEO tips whether they’re from the US or UK.

Simon Dance Whilst the US market might be larger in terms of the number of active optimizers and ‘big names’, I firmly believe that the UK is still pushing the boundaries and executing up to the minute techniques.. they might just not be shouting about it like the US.

The US (or at least some members on the east coast) do however appear to have had some history and indeed are seen to push forward with black hat schemes (high profile including Paid Reviews, Text Link Ads etc etc…) which isn’t, in my opinion, the smartest move to solve the problems of sustainable site visibility.

SES London was a bit of a disappointment this year… so I am not surprised it was perceived that the UK didn’t have a clue… particularly when hearing the range of questions that were being asked.

We’ve all got to start somewhere…. And that somewhere, should be in the blogosphere.

Kelvin Newman - The sheer size of the states means they can sustain more forward looking companies, however I’m proud to be British I think we have a great collection of talented individuals in our sector and we are pretty lucky in our abilities to deal with the US and European market at the same time.

I missed SES London but the feedback has varied from glowing to hugely critical, when it comes the London events is their a huge difference between the two events when it comes to quality and content or is it a case to go to the one that’s most convenient in your diary?

Tom Critchlow I haven’t had the pleasure of going to any of the US conferences yet (Will is at SMX West as I write this) but my impression is that the UK conferences are much smaller. I did go to some of the after parties at SMX London which were a lot of fun. That’s about all I can say on this really :-)

PS – I’m going to SMX Advanced later in the year which I’m obviously pretty excited about but that’s mainly because it’s in Seattle!

Judith ‘deCabbit’ Lewis I found SES London 2008 had far fewer sales pitches and far more content. While it seemed to get off to a possible intermediate start, it did level off at basic to intermediate. I found SMX London had more intermediate information. To use the SEO-trainee as an example, she will get more if she now goes to SMX than if she had started with SMX so SES is a required prerequisite.

Regardless of the sessions, for me I use these as opportunities to catch up with people and chat in the bar. My ears are always open for something I can use that I hadn’t thought of before. Sometimes any of us forgets something we then remember through chatting.

At heart, I’m an engineer. I love problem-solving and the bar at any search conference lets me find problems I can sink my teeth in to as well as people who can help me with a fresh perspective on my own issues.

Dixon Jones My guess is that those that went to the expo will have been hugely critical (there were hardly any stands at all and very few people other than the conference goers). However the conference itself was pretty strong.

Ciarán Norris Two events? You mean SMX & SES? I actually think that there are at least 4 or 5 events that people in our industry should consider, including Online Marketing Show & Internet World. I thought that this year’s SES was particularly strong and think that the main difference comes down to the size (SES is bigger) and which suits the diary.

Kevin Gibbons I only attended the LondonSEO pub night myself but the feedback seemed to suggest that SES was very useful but perhaps aimed more towards providing an overview of industry techniques rather than providing information at an advanced level.

Simon Dance In my opinion, SES London was a real let down. Too many speakers were crammed into the short sessions so there was never enough time for questions or a healthy debate. The intervals appeared more like a ‘sales’ conference and there was little in the way of networking in the huge design centre. Last years inaugural SMX provided smaller seminar groups, excellent time management (more questions, more examples), it covered both the basic of SEO and the more complex. The food was better and the smaller room sizes provided the room to network.

I would also add that a few speakers simply repeated their presentations from last years SMX… real let down.

I would agree that you’ve really got to choose your conferences carefully. Have a look at the list of speaker, read their blogs, filter down what is really important for you or your organization and don’t be afraid to provide feedback after the conference – they are expensive events, which can be invaluable.

Kelvin Newman as I said in the question I didn’t make SES London from the sheer volume of work we’ve got on at the moment. I don’t think I missed much. That’s not to say the conference wasn’t much kop more that with similar speakers to SMX I wouldn’t have learn’t much. But if I’d been to SES first I’d prob have felt the same way about SMX.

I’ve been increasingly tempted by the US search marketing conferences if you’ve attended one are the better than their London equivalent and are the worth the carbon footprint?

Tom Critchlow Again – can’t really comment except to say I’m going to SMX Advanced and Will is at SMX West at the moment. Most of our networking is done with US folk and so we would probably recognise more people at the US conferences than the UK conferences but I’m not sure how much actual business that would translate into.

Judith ‘deCabbit’ Lewis I think PubCon was worth it again for what I got in the bar. The sessions did give me some good insight but more towards building and structuring an in-house team and other issues I would not have encountered myself because of the type of SEO I do. I would not have gone for the bar alone though – the sessions + bar is what made it worthwhile.

Dixon Jones Last year I attended SES NY, SMX Seattle, SES San Jose and Pubcon Vegas. All were larger than SES London. Infact, the only one that was clsoe to SES London in size was SMX which was in its first year, They are HUGE in comparison and I think they are worth the carbon footprint. They ooze positive ideas and you can see why the American “frontierland” spirit works well on the Internet, compared to the more cautious Europeans.

Ciarán Norris I’ve been to 3 major events in the US now (SES NY, SMX Seattle & PubCon) and they were all worth it for various reasons. Due to the fact that it is a bigger industry over there, the networking opportunities (which include picking up tips from people in person) can be excellent. That said, some of them are not that much stronger than UK events in terms of content

Andrew R H Girdwood I’m going to SES New York this year. Actually, I’ll be speaking about the UK marketplace. I’ll be able to do a good compare and contrast then.

Lyndon AntcliffI think it’s best to go to the conference that has the best babes, food and parties. Life’s too short to be cornered by some seo geek with bad breath ranting about the evils of Google, without there being a pay off.

Conferences are great to watch people bullshit and it seems some people are great at promoting themselves at the conference rather than purely online.

I wanted to attend SMX West, but had a big clash. Carbon footprint, hmmm. I wonder what Danny Sullivans carbon footprint is?

Kevin Gibbons I can’t really answer this as I haven’t actually been to a conference in the US. It’s something I would be keen on attending however, mainly because many of the top US SEO’s don’t always make it over to London, so presentations from guys such as Rand Fishkin, Todd Malicoat etc would certainly be worthwhile. Although being able to justify a trip would probably come with the real value being in networking with some of the top SEO’s and bloggers in the US rather than the actual SEO techniques learnt during the conference.

Simon Dance Ha ha… from no experience I obviously cannot comments on the US conferences.. however if the US market are ahead of us then I would hope these conferences would be more technical and would actually get under the screen of advanced strategies, rather than… merely skirt over them… for businesses who don’t really understand search or social media marketing.

Kelvin Newman - The US conferences do look a great laugh, though I’m sure I’d have a great time as an individual it’s harder to tell if it would be worth it professionally. I think I’ll have to go to find out!

Even my mum mentioned the potential Yahoo MSN merger, but according to hitwise combined they have less than 5% marketshare, is it going to make much difference to the UK search landscape?

Tom Critchlow Firstly, you might want to check out our blog post about that hitwise data – Robin from hitwise swings by in the comments to clear a few things up

Google’s market share over here is much bigger than the US market share and I’m not sure what difference it would make even if they joined together. Both Ask and Live have done offline advertising in the UK and neither of them seem to have grown that much as a result.

I think their best option to capture market share in the UK is to partner with someone. Who? Maybe the bbc, maybe nokia (to capture mobile search), maybe someone else entirely. It’ll be interesting to see what happens certainly but for now, we’re mainly focusing on Google.

Judith ‘deCabbit’ Lewis Search? No… Google has a 90% market share – an effective monopoly. They are positioned to become in the UK what Yahoo is in Japan.

Dixon Jones not on its own. However Microsoft are not going to just use Yahoo to try to change the dial. I think the search landscape is changing faster than the general public (and maybe the experts) realise… but it is the way people search that is changin. You are getting this research from facebook contacts, not Google searches! BIG change to a few years back.

Ciarán Norris What it will change radically is the online advertising landscape, and whilst search is a huge part of that, it’s not everything. Why else would Google be buying DoubleClick? The thing that interest me is the potential of the demographics that Yahoo & MSN have via their webmail properties, tied in with the social graph data from Flickr etc.. Tie that in with search & display, and you could have something very interesting.

Andrew R H Girdwood I think the Yahoo / MSN merger could have an impact. It depends on how quickly the two giants become one, though. Yahoo has lots and lots of traffic and if Microsoft can be more clever with it than Yahoo has been then the needle will start to move. In particular, the battle for desktop search will be fought via applications like messengers where a Yahoo/MSN combo would be fierce.

Lyndon Antcliff I ge t the same input from my Father inlaw. Honestly, I couldn’t give a toss. Will only give it energy when I know where the chips will fall.

Kevin Gibbons If the merger does still go-ahead there’s obviously going to be a lot of work required to get anywhere near Google’s market share. The whole Windows Live/MSN search seems to have confused a lot of people but if Microsoft can focus solely on promoting Yahoo! and improving the algorithm it’s possible they could slowly begin clawing back some of the market. MSN Messenger/Hotmail and Internet Explorer have a massive amount of users in the UK so I expect they’ll start by annoying all of their users by changing their default search settings like they normally do :)

I think integrating Yahoo! Search Marketing into Microsoft adCenter (or vice versa) could be far more interesting. Both paid search platforms are worth considering in the UK, especially if Microsoft could instantly improve it’s search volume to make adCenter more attractive to advertisers, even if it’s running alongside Google AdWords campaigns.

Simon Dance I’m most looking forward to the development of new platforms, such as those Yahoo has been so quick to acquire (Flickr, My Blog Log and Answers) coupled with Yahoo / MSN Messenger, Live Earth, and live search. If Yahoo MSN can really add value to these platforms collectively then I’m confident they can secure market share and user attention.

Will the cultures clash? Who knows… but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. After all… a monopoly scenario isn’t good for anyone.. but a new runner will hopefully push up the quality for everyone.

Kelvin Newman Despite asking the question I think the next big movement in the search market will be unpredictable. If we all could have foreseen Google’s rise we would have bought the shares when they first floated and been a fair bit richer. My approach is to deal with the market today rather than worry how it might be in three years.

Where is the search marketing capital of the UK?

Tom Critchlow Having just moved to London I’d have to say here, but then Leeds (and the north of england in general) is famous for it’s blackhats and that’s where Will, Duncan and I are all from so perhaps Yorkshire has something going for it?

Judith ‘deCabbit’ Lewis Wherever the most SEO Chicks and the best chocolate is! *winks* Of course *smiles* And where is the best chocolate you ask? At the moment it’s a difficult competition between Henley on Thames and London but for sheer volume, London has more high quality chocolate shops :D But of course with LisaD and deCabbit being in London, that’s a London win I’m afraid ;-)

Dixon Jones Brighton, Edinburgh, London…. with a stranglehold in Flitwcik Bedfordshire.

Ciarán Norris London of course!

Andrew R H Girdwood I can respect Brighton – do you put SEO in the water there? I’ve heard people debate that the talent is spread too thinly over too many agencies. I wonder which agencies collect the most CVs? I like being based in Edinburgh (with offices in Manchester and London) as that lets us recruit from all over the UK! I’m bias, though. :)

Lyndon Antcliff It seems Brighton has a high concentration of SEO geeks, although I do know of another bloke in Cornwall, up in Wadebridge who knows a thing or two.

Kevin GibbonsIf I’m very biased and lying it has to be Oxford, although if I’m honest you can’t really look past London – despite a very large amount of SEO’s seeming to be based down in Brighton at the moment! With SEO companies being spread widely across the US is London actually becoming the SEO capital of the world too?

Simon Dance I don’t want to say the obvious (London)… but Brighton is pretty much the Digital Hub of the UK, with an expansive pool of freelancer developers and optimizers, multinational search agencies, smaller firms like us and a full service design agencies.

I think Brighton is still a major contender.

Kelvin Newman – Simple Brighton

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12 Comments
  • Will on February 29, 2008

    I used to work at eBay and we all got various freebies like fleeces etc. When we gave items away through the community boards, it would cause a frenzy…I used to post as naughty_elf for the christmas promos, like the treasure hunt, and such was the fervour, that we once had 500 comments in 5 minutes on a competition posting where you had to reply to be in with a chance of winning a prize. Employees were not allowed to sell any eBay merchandise they owned until they left eBay’s employ.

    Sadly, the days of naughty_elf seem to have been numbered as I don’t think there hasn’t been any such silliness for a while.

    I got the google gym bag invite too. Bizarre or what?!

  • Kimara DiSalvo on March 4, 2008

    I run a Google PPC campaign for my employer and was very impressed with the gifts I received from Google last December:
    To Keep: a 2-Meg USB thumbdrive (credit card style)
    To make me feel part of the holiday spirit: a $100 credit at DonorsChoose.org. This is a charitable website that encourages average people to fund grant proposals to schools for various learning projects. I was able to select a grant proposal that met my criteria (reading-oriented, disadvantaged students, and where my gift would take the project to full funding so I would know that it meant a difference). This gift of a gift-giving-opportunity introduced me to a great way to make a difference, and filled me with the holiday spirit! Just last week I received thank-you letters and photos of the kids in the class I helped enjoying the learning aids purchased with the grant. I’ve shared these with everyone where I work, which has interested them in helping this website as well.

    What a totally “feel good” experience! Way to go, Google!!!

  • Tom on March 4, 2008

    Nice post mate and thanks for including me. The list at the top is in order of importance right? ;-)

    Lyndon – I like your philosophy of which conferences to attend, a man after my own heart!

  • Ciarán on March 6, 2008

    Thanks again for asking me Kevin – a real pleasure.

    It’s good to see that we all seem to agree that there is no-need to have an inferiority complex when it comes to the industry in the UK. You only have to look at the likes of Rob Kerry, Dixon, Dave Naylor, Mike Grehan, etc… to see that we can more than hold our own.

    Please note, I am not in ANY way putting myself in the same bracket as the names above (except when it comes to drinking, because Rob’s only 12)!

    :)

  • Doug Heil on March 6, 2008

    How does one assess how good or not good a SEO is? How do you know that the UK SEO’s are not way better than the USA SEO’s?

    I don’t even know if my closest associates in the industry are actually good or not good. Unless I view and know exactly the clients of a firm, how would I know if they are indeed any good or not? Do you all really know how good that firm is you met at a conference? How? Is it because they spoke at that conference? Does that make them good as well?

    Hmm, erm. Interesting stuff how the SEO industry will actually say this firm is good or that firm is good, etc. I’ve always wondered how you judge these firms. I guess I must be missing something. There seems to be a misconception out there that states the SEO’s in the states are one up on SEO’s elsewhere. Tell me; exactly where do you come up with that opinion? Don’t sell yourselves short over there. You would be very surprised at some client websites of some of these so-called “A” listers you hear about.

  • Simon Dance on March 10, 2008

    Excellent stuff Kelvin – a real pleasure to have been involved.

    Have a grab that beer sometime soon.

    Simon

  • Kelvin on March 10, 2008

    I’m glad everyone agreed to get involved….
    I’ll admit collectively it’s a bit of a beast but definately given a good insight into what some of us in the UK industry are thinking.

    Even if we can’t all agree that Brighton is the centre of the universe!

  • Dixon Jones on March 20, 2008

    Thanks for bringing in me in. I did, however, run out of coffee before the end :)

  • Jason Bridgewater on April 17, 2008

    I just received my ‘Gym bag’ today.

    Very disappointing. Probably one of the worst freebies ever!

    It came all crumpled in an envelope too small to hold it.

    As an avid gym goer i’m not sure what could even fit into it. Maybe my socks?

    COnsidering how much we spend with Google i’d expect better – shame on you Scroogle!! :(

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