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What I learned at SAScon 2015


What I learned at SAScon 2015

I love SAScon. Working every day in a quiet, busy office full of familiar faces, I find it’s easy to forget that, as Engage Web’s senior content editor, I’m part of a huge, dynamic industry that takes an almost scientific approach to staying relevant.

This aspect of the search sector was really hammered home in the opening keynote speech from Martin MacDonald, Orbitz Worldwide’s head of SEO. I was impressed at how honest and critical he was, as he talked candidly about his experiences with black hat SEO in the early noughties, when the industry was in its infancy and nobody knew better.

MacDonald also spoke about how black hat methods, despite the sharp advantages they offer in the short term, are never worth the risk. After all, Google is a stupendously powerful entity from a commercial and economic perspective.

Immediately after the morning keynote, I listened to Tecmark’s Stacey MacNaught discuss delivering quality content while giving thought to scale. I learned from her that there’s more to understanding a client’s audience than simply knowing the sectors its customers work in, or their ages or whatever.

MacNaught also talked about how important it is to break an audience down further, looking at the devices they use, the companies they like, their interests and hobbies. The list goes on, and it got me thinking about the implications such data could have for content creation, and generating the most shareable ideas.

Stacey MacNaught and a fairly imposing graph
Stacey MacNaught and a fairly imposing graph.

She also said that content doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing on the page. While MacNaught did back this up with evidence (she showed us a relatively ugly article of hers that got a huge amount of interaction), I don’t know if I agree. Obviously as an editor and writer, I’m no boffin when it comes to web design, but I do know that the bounce rate can be crushingly high for web pages that look amateurish.

Next was a fantastic presentation on working with publishers from journalist Angela Epstein, who writes a lot for the Daily Mail (don’t boo – she was very nice). She had interesting advice for getting your clients noticed in a more organic, qualitative way. Epstein suggested looking at stories that journalists are writing for the papers, and trying to get your client featured as a talking head or industry expert.

Solid advice from Angela Epstein.
Solid advice from Angela Epstein.

Although the results from this kind of outreach wouldn’t be immediately quantifiable, I think it’d be great from a long-term perspective.

After lunch and with a belly full of salmon and rice, I heard Ao.com’s charming and hilarious Yossi Erdman talk about effective social media strategies, and how companies should be engaging with their customers. Although it was clear that you’d need a pretty gargantuan budget to have a social strategy like Ao.com’s, there were a number of points in his presentation that were applicable to smaller companies with smaller budgets – namely, being humorous, light-hearted, current and, above all else, quick to deal with negative comments.

The image I tweeted for Ao.com’s Twitter competition. It nabbed me a 50” TV.
The image I tweeted for Ao.com’s Twitter competition. It nabbed me a 50” TV.

After that, I attended the talk I was probably looking forward to the most. As a general geek and fan of science fiction, I enjoy speculating about the future of the corporate world, so I loved listening to the ‘Where Next For Google?’ panel discussion. I don’t know how much of what I learned could actually help me in the content I write and edit, but it was hugely interesting nonetheless, and it always pays to know more about the companies that have a big impact on your employer.

Annoyingly, a question for the panel came to me retrospectively. It made me wonder, would Google ever move away from Search completely? And if so, what gargantuan shift in world affairs would set this scenario in motion? With Search being its core offering, it might be hard to imagine this, but don’t forget that Nintendo – a brand practically synonymous with Japanese video games – actually started off in the late 1880s as a small company selling playing cards.

Yes, Google gets a staggering amount of its revenue from Search ads, but the panel discussed a possible ‘post-screen’ culture coming in the future, in which we use our devices without tapping on the screens very much (perhaps relying on PA software like Siri and Cortana). If Google somehow failed to adapt the ad side of its business to such a shift, would it move its focus onto the other, more sinister areas it’s pursuing, like robotics and AI?

Later in the afternoon, I saw Expedia Media Solutions’ Angelique Miller give her perspective on social media best practice, and after that I went to another panel discussion where they talked about wearable technology.

Boffins talking about dressing yourself like Brain from Thunderbirds.
Boffins talking about dressing yourself like Brain from Thunderbirds.

Above all else, attending SAScon 2015 showed me just how fast moving the digital sectors really are, and how important it is to stay up to date with everything that’s going on. This is an ever-changing industry, and if you don’t stay current you’re going to be left behind.

Richard Bell
  • […] our senior editor, Richard, writing his own account of what he saw and learned, I’ll just focus on an overview of the two days and what I personally […]

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