Swydo is pleased to be exhibiting at one of the largest and most respected digital marketing events on the calendar this year, brightonSEO 6-7 April in the UK. We sat down with conference founder Kelvin Newman to discuss the event’s origins, challenges and future path.
What’s the origin story behind brightonSEO?
brightonSEO was originally just a few people getting together in the pub to talk about SEO back in 2007. Eventually we realised if we hooked up a projector we could call it a conference and legitimately go down to the pub at lunch on a work day. It’s come a long way since those early meetup days but we try to keep a little of that rebellious streak we had when we first started the event. Previously I worked at a marketing agency, which has been a huge help when programming the event. I ask myself what would I want to hear about.
What drove you to launch the conference?
I’m a big fan of some of the long-running SEO conferences, they gave me my big break speaking about search, but they can be really expensive. That makes it really hard for some people to attend. With brightonSEO we’ve always tried to make the event as welcoming as possible.
Sometimes people wonder how we can give most of our tickets for free. We are able to do that because half of our revenue comes from sponsors, and the other half from VIP ticket sales and training course tickets. We also cull some of the most expensive elements from our event – a three day event costs at least three times as much to host as a one day event, and rather than offer expensive but typically terrible lunches, we let our attendees explore the great restaurants and pubs in the area.
How has brightonSEO grown over the years?
Growth has been huge. We started out seven years ago with just a few colleagues in a pub, to all 3500 free tickets offered flying off the shelves in less than five minutes.
We’re not sure where we go from here as we’re in the biggest venue in Brighton, and we don’t want to give up our terrific seaside location. Crossing fingers that rumors for new arena being built in the next few years are true!
Are there any tickets left to the April conference?
Absolutely. We also offer paid “friend” VIP tickets which offer perks like a guaranteed free ticket to the next brightonSEO, a goodie bag, priority seats for over-subscribed sessions, access to VIP WiFi and more. Plus paid ticket holders gain membership in a private forum to help decide topics and brainstorm ideas for the event. And we offer a number of paid in-depth training sessions as well. You can learn more details here, plus you can save 15% with Swydo’s exhibitor discount.
What are the challenges you face?
Dealing with the sheer number of people who want to attend the event – there’s currently over 1500 people on the waitlist who missed out on free tickets for the event. That popularity also puts the pressure on us to deliver. People want great talks and amazing networking, that’s what we’ve built our reputation on, but rightly, our audience’s expectations keep rising.
Sometimes these requests are easy to solve, as when people asked for more technical talks so we programmed more. Others we need to be more inventive – for instance we’re now offering a series of lunchtime networking sessions aimed at different groups of people, and we found an event app we hope will make it easier to choose the right session to attend.
What is your ambition for brightonSEO?
I don’t have a grand plan, we’re big fans of trying things out, seeing if they work and, if they do, building on them. We’ve got hundreds of experimental elements to each event. I can’t wait to see what works and learn from that.
One recent experiment was introducing “friends tickets” with priority seating, it really helps people guarantee they can attend the sessions they want. Others, like on-demand name badge printing when people arrived, was a car crash.
Have you seen any change in the types of content attendees are looking for now compared to the early years of the conference?
All the usual changes you’d expect. Search is a far more strategic discipline than it was in the past. But people still love tactics, the kind of things you can take back to the office and implement straight away. We’ve really pushed our speakers this time round to make the talks as practical as they can, so every attendee goes home with some fresh and interesting things on their to-do list.
Who’s your ideal speaker and how do you tackle the selection process?
We don’t have a complex speaker selection process. I’m constantly searching for people who either have delivered great talks in the past or I think could deliver great talks based upon things they’ve written or their experience. If anyone’s got a great idea for a talk they should get in touch here.
What marketing channels are the most successful for promoting the conference? Why?
We rely on three channels – email, Twitter and remarketing, though we’re planning on doing more with Facebook over the next year. We have a great community around the event so our challenges are more around communicating to that audience rather than marketing. Though we do send a lot of emails because they work! We’re huge fans of of Mailchimp as it makes it very easy to concentrate on the content of our emails rather than the design.
How do you use social media for attracting attendees?
We had a hashtag before we had a website, so social media is very much in our DNA. Social has an impact on every element of the event. If I’m not sure what t-shirt to design, I ask our VIP attendees Facebook Group. If I’m looking for new speakers I ask on Twitter. That really helps our attendees feel part of a community and it helps because I’m hugely indecisive.
What are you most excited about for the April event?
Our keynote Rory Sutherland (@rorysutherland). I’ve want to have Rory speak at a brightonSEO since our very first event. It’s take seven years to make it happen but I’m very excited about it!
If you don’t already know, Rory is the Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy and Mather Group UK and his TED talks have had, in combination, over six million views. The “Sweat the Small Stuff” is my favourite.
What tips do you have for attendees to maximize their time on-site at brightonSEO?
At brightonSEO we’ve got lots of tracks running concurrently and it’s almost impossible to switch mid-session, so a bit of pre-planning your schedule really helps make sure you cover the topics you want. And make sure you check out some of the networking elements, of course there are the big parties, but also smaller roundtables and networking lunches. That’s the best way to meet new people!
How do you want visitors to feel when they leave brightonSEO?
It might not sound that ambitious but we want people to leave feeling they can do their job a little better. Most of our attendees are smart, intelligent people. They know the fundamentals, they’re looking for small incremental things they can do to be more successful.
What are the top 3 conferences – other than those you produce – that you attend every year? Why?
I’m a regular attendee of SearchLove – I love the way they approach their speaker selection and you know you’ll see top notch speakers there. I really enjoyed speaking at State of Search last year, they have the best venue of any search event. And Mozcon is still on my event wishlist.
Where do you see your brightonSEO in 2 years?
Riding a hoverboard or flying car? I’d like to expand the scope of the event somewhat. Maybe covering more related disciplines, but more likely deep diving in to particular subsets of search or vertical sectors. Nothing is set in stone yet but we’d love to have a travel SEO day or maybe just one dedicated to just ecommerce SEO. And awards have been something we’ve considered for years.
What have you learned about producing conferences that you didn’t know when you got started in the business?
Not knowing how other events are produced is a strength not a weakness. Doing things differently will help you stand out and quite often save you money! It’s amazing how good an event you can programme if you love the topic, work with good freelancers and know how to save time using Google forms.
Kelvin Newman is the Founder of Rough Agenda, a company that arranges specialist digital marketing events including BrightonSEO. In 2014 Kelvin was voted by econsultancy as the most influential individual in digital and in 2013 won the Search Personality award at the UK Search Awards. He is also Co-founder of clockworkTalent with Natasha Woodford, a specialist recruitment consultancy that genuinely understands digital marketing. You can follow him @kelvinnewman