Lisa Myers is the CEO and founder of award-winning international SEO and content marketing agency Verve Search, based in London.
Lisa has been working in marketing since 2001, and in SEO since 2005. She is a regular speaker at digital marketing conferences worldwide, and contributes regularly to the digital marketing press, both on and offline, as well as authoring several best practice guides and white papers for industry associations including eConsultancy. She is also the founder of Women in Search and co-founded StateofSearch.com (now known as State of Digital.)
Lisa has won several industry awards and recognitions including; “Blackberry Women & Technology” 2008, 35 Women under 35 Management Today 2009, and “Search Personality of the Year” at the UK Search Awards 2011.
In 2016 Verve Search was named the Best Large SEO Agency in the UK, as well as the Best Small SEO Agency in Europe.
Okay guys, I have a lot of slides so we're going to have to go through this quickly. I run an SEO agency, we specialized in off-page — so actually getting links; still a very very important part of SEO.
[00:00:20] I'm going to start off with telling you a story. In January 2015, we were in a bit of a predicament as a business, because the value of the links that we were able to contribute to our clients were sadly reducing, year by year. So we have a link scoring metric in-house which allows us to see how valuable the links are that we are able to contribute to client sites. It's also likely to increase rankings which is why we're doing this. And we could see this was decreasing, year by year. So I realized that we could continue doing what we were doing and what we were doing was content carketing. Content marketing, traditional link-building, which was mostly about creating content — written content, infographics, simple stuff — and then trying to get coverage with it. But I realized that if we didn't considerably change our strategies we would lose, maybe not even lose clients because I know loads of people that are still doing this shit, but we would certainly lose results, which was important to me. So basically we restructured the agency to become more of a creative agency. So today we look pretty much like a creative agency, having designers, developers, researchers, project managers, and tech SEO is the smallest part of our agency.
[00:01:55] The reason that I thought this was a good idea was because we needed to do things that were of much better quality. Basically, I wanted us to think like 50s ad execs, and execute like geeks. And I made everyone wear these outfits for a week. No I didn't, but I would support that. So to get to that bit. So this is basically now 2017. We've been doing these kind of campaigns for a couple of years but I don't want you to think that it was easy. I'm going to share everything I've learned with you today.
[00:02:28] So we have launched 66 creative campaigns in the last 12 months. Of those 66 campaigns, there was about 350 ideas. What does that say about us? We are really good at coming up a lot of shit ideas. I'm going to give you some examples of these ideas. Just to give you a perspective. So, have you ever thought it would be really cool if you could print your tweets on toast? A twister. Yeah that's a really bad idea. It gets worse. How about this one of mine: Have you ever thought, "It's 11 o'clock on a Saturday, you really need a condom. It would be ideal to get it with your pizza." My husband is sitting there and is probably thinking what the hell. Yeah. So the point is, you have to come up with a lot of shit ideas in order to come up with great ideas. I think this is really important. Not being afraid of failing is really where our creativity lies.
[00:03:37] I know there's a lot of pressure to be original, and that's where we think creativity lies. And when we think about creativity we think of people like Picasso or Edison or Steve Jobs, not us. And this is where I think 404, creativity not found, panic. What are we gonna do? But if we just adjust our mindsets a little, so instead of thinking creative we should be thinking innovation. And innovation to me is basically to take something and make it better. So when Alien was pitched in to the studios in Hollywood, it was pitched in as 'Jaws in space', which I think is the best explanation of what lies ahead. And if you think about it, Deliveroo is kind of like Uber for food. Some of the best ideas are based on something else. And in SEO and in creative campaigns, working maybe on smaller budgets than a lot of creative agency, I think there's a lot of worth finding something that nearly worked.
[00:04:52] For example, Red Bull actually came out of a research trip. This Austrian researcher called Dietrich Mateschitz, I cannot pronounce that name. But he visited Thailand and found this drink that was targeted to road truckers. It was a really cheap energy drink and he pretty much stole the whole idea, including the label - because that's exactly what the label looks like now - and made it into a very successful drink. So I'm not saying that you should steal anyone else's ideas, but you can be inspired by them.
[00:05:24] In 2013, Business Insider had a piece that included this graph. This is basically a graph including the hundred deadliest films by on-screen kills. Which looks pretty bad because it's just like a table. But when we saw this we thought, you know it's really interesting, because it would be good to see the data now and to see whether there are any big surprises. Because data is always interesting if you find the odd ones out. That's what makes things then a story, right? So we found a forum that actually include literally every movie that's ever been made, where they have counted the on-screen deaths in movies. They are propagates for anything. So we created for GoCompare this campaign call Director's Cuts, which was basically an updated version, better looking but also better data and more data points. And the very big surprise was that the number one deadliest movie of all time was Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a PG-13 movie. Awkward. And to be honest, when we did this piece it was a smaller piece for GoCompare, so it was for the life insurance. I know, slightly tasteless, life insurance, death in movies. And we thought it would do well, but we were not aware of how well this would do because the first people to pick this up was The Guardian, and from The Guardian it got nearly 12,000 shares and 159 comments in, like, no time at all. The important thing of this, and the reason why it really got engaged with everyone, is that I'm pretty sure there are some Star Wars fans in here that are thinking, hang on a second, they blew up planets in Star Wars. Which again is getting that kind of user interaction of like, well I disagree. But not only did we get The Guardian covering it, James Gunn who is the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, tweeted it. Not only did he tweet it, he spent two hours replying to tweets. Saying, "No I think you'll find that GoCompare is correct in their data." Which was insane in terms of engagement, because it did have a lot of people saying Star Wars had more deaths. But, this is very important, on-screen death. You have to see them dying. Sorry this sounds so awful. But - not only did it get coverage from The Guardian and get all these tweets and stuff which helped with engagement and further spread of the campaign - it got over 700 links from some of the biggest authority sites in the world.
[00:08:00] Authority sites are hugely important because those links are worth a lot more than those shitty little blogs. It also became a Twitter movement because it was shared a lot over 48 hours. And this is just one example of a kind of campaign that again is not rocket science. It's not. It's not super creative, it's just innovative. It's just taking something, making it better, making it even look better can sometimes be good enough.
[00:08:27] Another campaign we used this kind of mythology for - Forbes release this on their site every year - this billionaires' rich list. We realize that they release this every year but they don't have anywhere where you can see all of this data over time. As SEOs who are kind of data interested, we always want to see things over time. So we created the billionaires League which is basically a place where you can see all kinds of details about this Forbes list, including things like female billionaires - is that going up or is it going down? - the average age of billionaires, and so many other angles. We even added some very random angles, like what star sign. Anyway that got about 97 links and 850,000 views. That's some serious views for a campaign that is meant for SEO, but it's important to do campaigns that are worth the views and the additional coverage, and not just the links.
[00:09:35] I would also say it's hugely beneficial to over-invest in building formats that we could use again. Are there any developers in the house? Yeah a couple. So we have several developers in-house. And I must admit they weren't too keen on this to start with, but they come around. Finding Nemo, when they created that, they came into a bit of a difficulty where they needed to create some new technology to model the light dappling through the water. So they spent a lot of time invested in being able to create that effect, but that they put into what is called the render library of basically additional technology that can be used again and again. I would like you all to think about creating this kind of library. So over-invest once and then you can use it again and again. Our Head of Production Lou was not too keen on this and got her very stressed. But let me show you some examples of campaigns where we've done this. So Billionaires League obviously you saw before, by having invested in creating the kind of setup and stuff of the Billionaires League, made it really easy then to create another kind of informative graphic kind of campaign.
[00:10:53] So I'm really interested in the e-sporting kind of community and just how big that is. So we had this idea for our gambling client to create a kind of Billionaire League but for e-sports, where we looked into all the data of e-sports. Did you know that e-sports is going to be an actual Olympic sport? Things like top earning women, how much prize money is actually being earned. Like, look at that credibly increase there. This is the kind of data that really surprises people and it's really easy to get coverage from now. We worked in the Nordic market for this campaign and the Nordic market and gambling is actually really really difficult because there are so many laws against doing marketing and gambling. So it was a bit of a challenge but because the campaign was good enough and because we could invest more time in doing the outreach for this, this got 198 links and nearly 200000 views. Some really big Scandinavian sites that were the targets but also big international sites.
[00:12:05] Another example of a campaign that we've done where we have kind of over-invested initially, is this one. So I quite like doing street kind of campaigns. And this is a castle in Malmo in Sweden, where we collaborated with the castle to do a street view inside the castle. We also wanted to do an audio visual tour and as you can see you can also click on all the different artwork and stuff and really have a immersive kind of tour of that castle from your home. And it is on Google Street View. But to do this, and the castle being on several floors, we had to create our own software to be able to do that over several floors. That took a lot of time to start with, but it was definitely worth it in the end because this campaign got 86 links. And the Swedish market is a lot smaller than the UK market.
[00:13:03] This is Sweden, obviously a big target for our client, Expedia, as well as lots of the Swedish press. In fact this campaign had to fly one of my people out to Sweden to be interviewed by Swedish television. I'm not getting bonus points for that from an SEO point of view, but if your campaign can get on television it sure as fuck is not going to be deemed as bad from Google's point of view later. I'll reduce the swearing now.
[00:13:36] So literally this year we launched this campaign again. Street view but this time in Denmark. So using Google Street View to go through this museum and doing the same contagion. We'd already created the whole technology for it, so it didn't take 20 days to develop. And now we can do these campaigns much quicker and then get the same kind of value from us. This got 83 links. Literally nearly every tourist board in Denmark covered this and in terms of relevancy for a client like Expedia that is pretty much the the top ceiling for their relevancy and quality of the links. That does not mean the developers get to put their arms up.
[00:14:29] But it doesn't all need to be like heavily invested development kind of campaigns that you need to do. Sometimes it's the simplest kind of campaign that does amazing. This is a campaign for Expedia in the UK where one of my outreach guys was really really keen on doing this. And to be honest at first I was like, oh I'm not sure, it sounds very simple and it's basically a kind of poster campaign, although we didn't create the posters. This is digital posters featuring extinct animals in the country that they were from. So the dodo in Mauritious and the moa in New Zealand and so on. So we had about eight of these. They look beautiful and we'd found a designer that we really liked the style of and hired the designer to do this specific piece. And this is a really simple piece, but he has a really kind of good connection I think with people, so this got 223 links, including The Guardian, Washington Post, BBC, Focus magazine and a lot of very targeted green sites as well. This did amazing on on all the social channels from these as well. So all of the ones I included on their site also tweeted it. And The Observer on Sunday also featured it in the paper. And again, I'm not saying that you should go out for - like your objective as an SEO or as a digital marketer might not be to get the print coverage, but the print coverage will not hurt and it will really help with it with the kind of spread of the campaign. Maybe most awkwardly and weirdly, this was created as a fan made mod for The Sims game. I'm not entirely sure what language it is, but the posters are now featured in that game. But this really connected with someone, where they they put in their time to do this. Lastly, people started calling the office wanting to buy the posters which I thought was great and I really wanted to create a whole online shop and stuff but I was restricted. It also had a petition started where people were thanking the managing director from Expedia for creating this campaign and he had over a thousand signatures. When was the last time you saw a petition where someone thanked someone?
[00:16:52] So it could be the simplest little thing that really gets you the great coverage. But it's not enough to do this kind of campaign just once in a year, for one client, and think that an increase in the rankings will then happen. It has to be consistent. So this is why we've done 66 campaigns. Each client has at least five or six campaigns each year, and outreach and these kinds of big sites are covering these pieces every month. And yeah I'm sure you've thinking, yeah this is cool, but does it actually work?
[00:17:25] This our fifth year with Expedia Nordic, and the UK actually, and in the last twelve months last year we had overall 46 percent increase in the visibility. To put into perspective, I think Expedia Sweden was the smallest with 16. Expedia Sweden has a higher visibility in Sweden then Ikea. So getting that increases, this is quite quite tough in the first place.
[00:17:52] A very recent client Lenstore, we have so far done four months of outreach, two campaigns. The main term for them is contact lenses, which they were at position 11, and they're already on position 3. It keeps on going 3 and 2 and 3 in the last last week or so. So this definitely works, going for the high authority sites. The higher the better is a much more value. It means you have to invest in the creativity though.
[00:18:23] I know so many SEOs I think are like "Oh, look, I just need to know which kind of format works and what kind of type of campaigns work and we'll just do that." So obviously being us is we did that research and we looked into what kind of campaigns over the last six months have done the best. So by looking at this it looks like data pieces are the best performing in terms of the links. Well I think that's a big mistake to draw conclusions over and to help me tell the story of why that is, I'm going to bring in some chickens.
[00:19:00] So there was a research by the University of Texas at Austin that had basically shown a group of people these two pictures of what they call the natural chicken and engineered chicken. Or a pretty chicken and an ugly chicken I don't know. And they showed these pictures to people and they said that they divided the groups in two, and they said to one group that this natural chicken is healthy and that engineered chicken is tasty but not really that healthy. And then the next group they told this one is tasty and this one is healthy. The really interesting thing with this survey is that both of these groups not very surprisingly I think preferred the plump natural chicken to the ugly skinny chicken. It was only been plucked of its feathers. But the interesting thing with it was that neither group justified their choice based on how they felt. They justified it by the opposite reasons. So they said that they prefer things maybe tasty and they prefer the healthier one because it's healthy. The point is that you have data like this and you think that you are making the choices based on what the data is saying, but what you're actually doing is that you're making it based on how you feel. So doing all this kind of research into our kind of campaigns, and what works and what doesn't work, just isn't really relevant because it all depends on how people feel about it. It's not the poster campaign that made that campaign actually work, it's that it had an angle that really appealed to people. It isn't that it is a data campaign that made the Billionaires League work, it's because they had something that people already knew about and people were interested in.
[00:20:56] So the post hoc rationalization, which is the concept they just described, I think is the reason why not to go into your data and try to think "I'm going to start doing data campaigns."
[00:21:05] Formats are just vessels basically and the creative is what connects people, and this is what you need to concentrate on. But saying that, it doesn't matter how many great kind of campaigns you do if you don't actually do outreach. There's a reason why I did the outreach conference only this year. Because outreach is about making people aware of the stuff that you've made. So this is where kind of traditional PR, which Laura talked about earlier... the PR strategies are very much what we need to be doing in SEO to be able to get our campaigns far. This is why the outreach team is by far the biggest team. But I can't really tell you what makes a successful outreach but I can tell you what doesn't.
[00:22:02] I get asked this a lot. Like okay, so you guys are really good at outreach, you get all this coverage. So what tools do you use? I just need to know the tools, just tell me the tools. And I can tell you the tools. We use Gorkana and Meltwater which are traditional PR tools, where you can find all the journalists and all of that kind of stuff. We use BuzzStream to actually do the process of outreach, to be able to be found by the people open the email and so on. And Buzzsumo we often use for finding inspiration for kind of campaigns and stuff. But you can't build a house by just holding a hammer. Tools are just that, they're just tools. There's no optimum way of writing outreach e-mails unfortunately. I can't tell you this is the way that you write to someone and then you will get the coverage.
[00:22:49] In fact a lot of people think that you need to have outreach e-mails that are short and snappy. My least favorite thing when people outreach to me is when they try to make those like, silly jokes about like, oh what happened to you? Are you under a bus? It just annoys me. So don't do that to me. But James Condon is one of my top outreach people and he is amazing at his job, but the way he does outreach will really surprise you. This is him doing outreach on the Billionaires League. This is just the start. Don't start reading because it's going to go on. So this is the start of it. This is going after a national newspaper. Right? So this is the first bit, the second bit ,the third bit, the fourth bit, and that's the end of it. That's one e-mail. That is our outreach e-mail. That looks like the worst outreach e-mail ever created right? OK so he talks at big national newspapers with this. This is the reply: "Hi James, you got my attention with this brilliant release. Wish all PR sent something like this. I've cc'd our money team because I think there may be something in them." And here's the coverage. So what you think is a bad e-mail or good e-mail, it's very rarely the case. It's not about how many e-mails you send either. I'm going to show you this. I have a large outreach team, but they are all very different.
[00:24:20] So J.C., which is James Condon's name because I've got three James, so he becomes a rapper. He said that in one month he sent over 1000 e-mails and he got 20 links in total. Now Iris sent 267 e-mails and got 23 links, but they are totally different people. They are totally different people with totally different strategies. One is not right and the other is wrong. It just doesn't work like that. I think the most important thing is that you really need to let people come up with their own way of doing stuff. Coming up with their own way of doing outreach, and their own strategies, because that is where it lies. That is where you find that people really succeed.
[00:25:16] And it's more a people thing. Because outreach is about people. You know in that time where I really struggle in 2015, that's when I realized that the thing I needed to really look at was the people - the people that I had and the way that they were doing things - and I needed to change the way I was managing those people. So I think outreach is about mindset, and I think the biggest thing that you need to have to be good at outreach is grit. And to me that is passion and perseverance. Basically keep on going, because if you send those thousand e-mails and you got "no" 500 times, you would have given up. Most of us would have given up. But J.C. never ever gives up.
[00:26:07] This is Alex. Alex has worked here for about a year and a half, don't steal him. I'll come after you. And he is amazing. When I first interviewed him he looked like pretty much every other person I'd interviewed. He went to Tiffin which is quite a core school, looks a bit like Harry Potter's school. But what was really interesting with with Alex is that he got great education, he'd had a few kind of months working in papers and stuff so he was interested in writing, but what he was really interested in is American football. He was so interested in American football that when he was studying he decided to write a book about American football because there were no real books in the UK about this. So he dedicated time everyday to write this book. And when he finished he didn't just let it sit there. He didn't even try to get an agent. He went straight to the publisher and said you're going to publish this book. He got published. You could buy it on Amazon. Now that's great. When I saw him when I realized that he cares about something so passionately that we will keep on going if I can. You can find a way of motivating him. He will do the same for us and that's basically the recruitment strategy. Finding out what people really care about and finding out whether they have that grit.
[00:27:36] Basically these are just short cuts of missing the talent especially in outreach. I think it's about how they think and I think when you have those people and you know that they have the kind of abilities you want, you really need to encourage them to be more who they really are.
[00:27:56] I know this sounds like a psychology jumbo jumbo stuff but it really isn't. Like letting people be who they are, and having the ability to let them shine in their way is important. I think the world is just too much of a extrovert pro you know? Everything kind of given to the extroverts, but the introverts are just as creative, just as able. And I think it's leader's jobs to listen differently, to listen to the quietest voice in the room because that campaign - the poster campaign - that came from Matt.
[00:28:31] Matt is the shyest person in the agency by far and he's a real introvert. But my god is he creative. My God does he know what will work and what doesn't work. You need to really tune in to those people. There's no one way and one shape. You have to let them be who they are and then make them better at being who they are. And they're listening different. I think that is a key. I have an international agency, you have people from 12 different countries and I think that's been a benefit to us because I've had to listen differently, because everyone has such huge cultural differences. Really the biggest culture difference is actually between the Latin - like the Spanish - and the Nordic.
[00:29:17] Lastly, I'm going to quickly tell you a story that I think is extremely important and that I have told my employers several times. I think it's so important to find your own way and be brave enough. So there is a paradox called the Monkey Ladder paradox, some of you might have already heard of this paradox.
[00:29:33] It's basically a story of some scientists that had five monkeys in a room, and they put some bananas on top of a ladder. And then every time the monkeys tried to get up to reach the bananas, they would spray all the monkeys until they stopped trying to go for the bananas. They then exchanged one of the monkeys with a new monkey. And what happened when that new monkey tried to go for the bananas? The other monkeys just tore them down and beat beat him up. No don't go for that. And the next thing that happened was that they exchanged another monkey. Now the monkey had never been sprayed water on, helped the others dragging that monkey down. Eventually they exchanged all the monkeys, and all of the monkeys didn't go anywhere near the bananas, although they had no reason to know why they weren't going near the bananas.
[00:30:25] The lesson in this is that you are not the monkey. The key to outreach is perseverance, and being more of who you are and not being afraid. We need to be like professional labyrinth walkers. In fact that is why I think that when we find a dead end, we find another way. And whatever happens whatever comes next, I know that as marketers, as digital marketers and as SEOs, we will be able to do that, because we will find new ways of doing things. And that is how I went from that to this. Thank you.