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Here's a run down of some of the highlights:
Bruce Daisley from YouTube gave a keynote address which was very much a pitch about why businesses should be using YouTube and moving into video - and he was very convincing. Video is indeed one of the biggest growth areas, and when he drops statistics such as the prediction that by 2013 90% of the web's bandwidth will be taken up by people watching video, attentiveness is 1.5 times higher from audiences watching online video than watching TV and that you're 50% more likely to have your YouTube content found in blended results (if optimised correctly) than you are to be found in organic search results, it really drives home the importance of video and of targeting universal search in SEO campaigns rather than just the organic results.
The Search & Social panel featuring Lyndon Antcliffe, Andrew Barke of Google, Massimo Burgio from SEMPO and Joost De Valk of Yoast.com was one of the best panels of the day. They emphasised the importance of setting out goals and objectives before embarking on a social media campaign, of planning and of picking the right sites, not just going to the biggest sites (e.g., Facebook and Twitter). There was the usual SEO conference Google-bashing as Andrew was told that the real time results do not bring much to Google Universal. Finally there was some discussion of privacy issues, particularly in relation to Facebook and Facebook's decision to make data protection an opt-out rather than an opt in as people do not know that Facebook may pass their data to advertisers and do not understand that unless they opt-out their profile is crawlable and viewable by anyone.
The basic theme of the Black Hat/White Hat panel was that there's really no such thing as outright White Hat SEO anymore. Tactics which were once considered black hat (such as linkbaiting and automation) are now used universally and that when launching an SEO campaign the important thing is to look at what your competitors are doing and not stand out from the crowd too much by being more aggressive. As we've pointed out here before, Google seems unconcerned about TOS violations if everybody in a given SERP is doing the same things. You will only really run into trouble with clear TOS violations above and beyond anybody else. All the panelists emphasised the importance of making any SEO work you do look 'natural'.
The Analytics 2.0 panel was the first (and only) out-and-out disappointment of the day. The panelists spent much of the short 45 minute session talking about their own business offerings before uttering beautiful little truisms like "analytics is about more than just reporting numbers." There were a number of mentions of ways to use analytics data to understand conversions and where a business loses conversions with no clear examples and no practical information on how to do this. It was, for all intents and purposes, 45 minutes of being told "you can use analytics in a lot of cool ways and we'll show you if you hire us." I can imagine this was frustrating to those delegates who were hoping for some help in learning to use Analytics more effectively. I was hoping to pick up a trick or 2 I don't know about, but no such luck.
On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised with the panel on Pan-European search campaigns as I was expecting an hour of being subjected to a debate on the relative merits of subdomains, tlds or sub-folders and how to deal with duplicate content issues. Insead, Bas Van Den Beld talked about the importance of knowing a little history when setting up websites in different countries. I always knew my history degree was useful for SEO, I've just never found anybody else who understood how useful. In all seriousness though, the panelists focused on the fact that people in different cultures use the web differently, and that colour conveys different meanings in different places and that things are described differently in different languages - so you can't just do direct translations. It's all pretty logical stuff, yet something even big brands forget.
Finally, the Advanced Linkbuilding panel probably should have been called Linkbuilding 101 as there wasn't much that was advanced about it, but for people just getting a feel for it, there was some useful information. The panelists talked about about gauging the potential value of a link, understanding what it would take to compete in a given SERP and about targeting a range of different types of links - from authority sites to content networks to blog comments and even from unindexed pages - to make your link footprint look as natural as possible. Considering that nobody ever wants to give away their linkbuilding secrets lest they get out and stop working (cheers Joost de Valk for the great tip, boo to the livebloggers who had it on Twitter within 30 seconds!), there was some good, clear, best-practice advice given out.
Although some of the panels were a little basic for someone who's been working in the industry as long as I have and a few were a little lacking in detail in favour of sales pitches, on the whole the content was pretty good and the wealth of knowledge held by the panelists was pretty impressive. I think having some more advanced sessions (smaller, round-table discussions for those of us who've been around the block, perhaps?), or sessions with just one speaker giving a more in-depth presentation on something specific might have been very useful and would help SASCon stand out from the other SEO conference offerings. I'd also like to see someone putting on a session about content - what is good content, how to write it, how to entice visitors and search engines with it. More specific discussion about on-page and the technical aspects of SEO would be useful too.
I'm sure this is all feedback that is being taken on board, however, and having sucessfully pulled off year 1, they're already thinking about ways to move the conference forward for 2011.