Takeaways Friends of Search Conference 2015

Yesterday I attended the Friends of Search conference at Pakhuis De Zwijger in Amsterdam. This was my chance to meet a number of highly inspirational bloggers, experts who started their own digital marketing consultancy and have been very succesful at it. These guys know what they’re talking about, and I wasn’t dissapointed – it was a blast!

Topics discussed at the conference ranged from managing a PPC campaign to technical SEO, while more general strategy sessions about marketing & content production were also scheduled.

Search trends

The day started  off with Michael King from New York based IPULLRANK. He argued that, when developing a website, it all starts with identifying the needs of your clients. In SEO the starting point often is ‘which keywords bring me traffic’ but that is the wrong way of thinking. It’s all about user intention! So start with personas.

His presentation touched upon many more things-to-do in a changing search landscape. Most important: be pro-active instead of reactive. If you just keep chasing Google’s algorithm updates you’re always late.

SEO: Aggregation of marginal gains

One of my personal favorites was Richard Baxter from UK based Builtvisible. He talked about many technical SEO aspects I deal with on a daily basis – like Google indexing the WRONG parts of a website, broken links, and what happens when you move your site. Vital is your attitude towards these issues: many small improvements (marginal gains) together can make a big impact.

Keywords and entities

A big trend in SEO these days is ‘entities’ and user-centered topics. Marcus Tober of Searchmetrics explained that in stead of matching the best result to a certain keyword, Google now tries to understand the underlying intention of the search and than maps all keyword variations to the best result. It means closely related keyword combinations will be linked to one ‘entity’ (a product, person, brand or topic). This can be a good thing – it’s all about user intention right? – but Marianne Sweeny of Portent argued that Google regularly gets the user intention wrong, which leads to non-relevant results.

User behaviour

For a web page to rank in search results, a major factor has always been ‘incoming links’, and while they remain incredibly important today we see more focus on user behaviour. If a searcher clicks on your result and immediately returns to the result page, your page clearly proved to be a bad experience. Other user behaviour signals come from Google properties like chrome, Android, Gmail, Google Analytics, Google+. All combined they provide huge insights in the most popular pages & the way people interact with them.

In the end this means you can only do well in search engine rankings if you deliver the best possible user experience – in terms of content, looks, speed and ease of use.

Marketing Strategy

Ian Lurie of Portent delivered a great presentation that hammered home this message: many ‘experts’ in the business apply a bunch of tactics (linkbuilding, guestblogging, infographics etc) instead of developing an actual strategy.

If you really want to get to the bottom of this, check out ‘One Trick Ponies Get Shot‘. Or take a look at the slides:


Content Strategy

Lisa Myers and Hanna Smith both talked about the importance of creativity in content production, to earn brand recognition, links and traffic. It’s no use doing what others before you already did. Hanna is a content strategist at UK based Distilled, when you’re interested in the combination of marketing & content strategy it’s well worth your time to check out her presentation (below). It is filled with case studies, and in slide 124 she raises the question: why would people share my content?

Answer: because it ..

  • Makes them look smart
  • Makes them look cultured
  • Makes them look interested & interesting
  • Makes them look like they care about being creative.

I wonder, can you apply labels like this for your own content?


At the ‘borrel’ it was fun to see New Yorker Michael King enjoy a ‘bitterbal’. He liked it a lot – or so he said  🙂
All in all a great day.

UPDATE April 9th: here’s a nice follow-up article including interviews with some of the speakers.




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