The bi-annual Brighton SEO event started life in the upstairs room of a pub with half a dozen attendees, a whiteboard and a passion for digital marketing. Now, it’s the biggest SEO event in the UK. Over 1,700 people turned up to the event on the 22nd April this year, and we were one of them.

SEO is a multi-tentacled beast and the talks ranged from heavy, data-driven insights to lighter topics like PR cock-ups and personal branding. As a content marketing agency, though, we were focused on what the fest could teach us about content. Here are four essential content takeaways from the event.

1. Think like a publisher. Actually…don’t

In the Old Court Room at 2pm, ex-NME editor Conor McNicholas, was due to present some key lessons from publishing. In the spirit of real-time content, however, he changed the thrust of the talk at the last minute opting instead to talk about, erm, real-time content.

He spoke passionately about the mistakes brands make in trying to think like publishers when they’re neither structured or qualified to do so. And neither are agencies. And, in fact, it’s a terrible model to follow with publishing houses and publications across the world struggling to stay afloat, let alone innovate. His argument that we are dealing with a new kind of beast was a strong one, and that looking at the standard structure model for something as wide-ranging as content production is limiting– like “trying to solve 21st century networked problems with 20th-century structures.”

Brighton pier

His answer: a smart point or system at the centre of the business that feeds in intelligence and allows everyone a voice and a share of responsibility. He was clear to differentiate this voice from a vote, however. Everyone has input, but the only people who get to vote are the ones with a direct risk responsibility. This makes the whole business more agile and responsive. If that seems painful, he retorts: “Restructuring should lead to trauma, because only then can it affect change.”

It was somewhat jarring, then, to schedule that talk before Amy Merrill’s which urged content marketers and brands to think like journalists. While McNichols’s reasoning was more compelling, partly due to him being a much more engaging speaker, Merril’s arguments for approaching content journalistically chimes more with our beliefs here at Future Content. But certainly food for thought.

2. Watch what (and how) you write

Without (hopefully) coming across as a superfan, Conor McNichols also brought up another couple of interesting ideas: striving for perfection can lead to paralysis, and professionalism is not always a good thing. Sure, he was talking about real-time content, but he was also talking about the dangers of spending too long agonising over every sentence in the hunt for pure perfection when it’s not the be all and end all.

From a journalistic point of view, this sounds horrifying, but this is to ignore the way people consume content in the digital age: grabbing information here and there, rarely spending too long with any one brand or one piece of work. Yes, some content can be evergreen, but most people’s consumption habits are transient. The takeaway? Keep it short, sweet, punchy and current. Just get the content out the door. His response to the question of quality? Get better creatives.

Rob Bucci’s talk in the Dome Concert Hall focused specifically on featured snippets – those nifty boxes on Google which answer your query on the search page (see below).

How to change a tyre

His business, STAT Search Analytics, dived headfirst into a deep well of data to find out exactly how Google fishes for these golden nuggets. Why? Well, featured snippets circumvent organic SERPS performance. If you’re only ranking on page 5 for a search term, a featured snippet can leapfrog all of your competition, placing you before the first result. The presentation (thankfully) skipped over a lot of the dense data analysis, and gave practical advice on how to earn a featured snippet from Google.

Deep diving into featured snippets: How to earn more and rise to the top. from Rob Bucci

Essentially, structure your posts intelligently and clearly: make it easy for the search engine to read; use subheads to indicate what’s coming up next; write single purpose content; use tables and lists; bring in Q&A formatting; create strategic content targeted at featured snippets by answering relevant questions, particularly about things like costs. Opinions never earn featured snippets, only answers. So, that interrogative, two-thousand-word thought-leadership piece you’re thinking about writing, scrap it (we’re being facetious, of course, but it highlights the importance of getting your content mix right).

3. Speed matters

Tom Bennet, Senior SEO Consultant at digital marketing agency Built Visible, confirmed what we already know: speed is key in digital marketing. What Tom did brilliantly is provide solid stats and tips on how to improve our creaking blog pages. Walmart found that for every second saved in loading time, their conversion rate increased by 2%. Almost 75% of page size is due to images.

So, analyse your site speed with GT Metrix, compress your images with Tiny PNG and read his slides for more handy hints.

4. Trust matters more

The day’s keynote came from web psychologist Nathalie Nahai, all about creating persuasive content. She explained good content should grab and hold attention, provoke the desired emotional response and convert this into a mutually beneficial action. The way to do this is to build trust, and the way to do that is to know the psychography of your, or your client’s, audience. By adapting and connecting with your audience emotionally, your content will deliver so much more value. Here, watch the whole thing.


The keynote was the perfect end to a great day of insights and much props to the organisers for remaining faithful to the spirit of those early events. With the announcement that they’ll be moving to a new, larger venue for September’s conference, it was a fitting farewell to the Brighton Dome, the fest’s home for the last six years.

The upshot? We’ll see you at the Brighton Centre on the 2nd of September.