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Epic Friends of Search 2014 Conference Review

In February Friends of Search attracted some of the best Dutch online marketers as part of a and initiative

Friends of SearchThis has been my first post on SEJ since August 25, 2011 so I thought I should do something special.  That opportunity came last month when I was able to attend Friends of Search 2014 in Amsterdam, Netherlands, as a guest.  The event was perfect as I relocated to Amsterdam from Melbourne back in July 2013 and this international search event was just around corner and across a canal or two from my place.  The event is interesting as it’s actually a joint initiative between and and it had no traditional conference sponsorship. This means no company booths, sponsor presentations or delegate promo bags, which I was accustomed to seeing.

What really excited me about the event was the extremely high-caliber of Dutch and international speakers that were presenting at the event. I was wondering, though, what is the best way to share the insight for those who were unable to make it? The best solution I could think of was to create an epic review of FOS14 with interviews with as many speakers that I could organize in a single 7000+ word post!

The following speakers were kind enough to take some time out of their busy schedules

Barry Adams

Barry AdamsBarry Adams certainly stood out as the most controversial but also one of the most out of the box presenters. His presentation is on slideshare, but he certainly won the award for raising the most interesting points. Some of his tweets also created interesting discussions for those who were unable to attend, but were following #FOS14. Follow his outspoken and entertaining tweets from @Badams.

1) How did you find the crowd at FOS14?

It was a good crowd, very knowledgeable about SEO and digital marketing. The speakers got some great questions from the audience which showed they were thinking about SEO at a very advanced level, which is great to see.

2) Was there anything that surprised you about FOS14?

I thought for a first-time event the organization was surprisingly well done. Usually for inaugural events you see a lot of things go wrong, but the people who ran FOS made sure it was a well-oiled machine with a minimum of hiccups. That was a pleasant surprise.

3) What other speakers session did you catch?

I saw nearly all of them – I’m as much an attendee as a speaker and always eager to listen and learn from others. I thought Marcus Tandler’s keynote was excellent, as was Bastian Grimm’s WordPress security talk. Kevin Gibbons’ content marketing talk was also a very good overview of where that discipline stands at the moment.

4) Being Dutch, what was it like to present at a SEO event in Amsterdam?

It was good! I’ve been speaking at so many UK and Irish conferences that it was great to see a similar event organized in the Netherlands. I think Friends of Search might become a go-to destination on the European conference calendar.

5) What’s The Tomorrow Lab and why the new brand?

The Tomorrow Lab is the new brand for the digital side of Pierce Communications. We at Pierce Communications have often struggled with positioning our agency, as we combine three distinct disciplines under one roof: print, brand design, and digital services. To grow in the market, we felt we needed distinct brands for each of the three areas of our business. Hence the rebrand: Pierce Printellect for print, Brand Etiquette for branding and graphic design, and The Tomorrow Lab for web design, development, digital strategy, and digital marketing. Then we have an umbrella brand called The Pierce Partnership for when we need to combine forces for multidisciplinary tenders. We’re excited about it!

6) You touched on the dangers of not-so-smart personalization, but is Google or Bing getting better?

I think Google is getting better and better at eliminating the mismatches in their personalized search offering, which is actually a bit dangerous because users will stop noticing the personalization. I don’t use Bing very often, but their integration with Facebook makes their personalization much more based on the social graph than Google’s.

7) Which direction is Google going? Is it towards dumb, not-so-smart or creepy personalization?

Definitely towards the creepy end of the spectrum where they will guess what you want to know next and provide you with the answer before you even ask. That to me is dangerous territory, because it gives Google the perfect platform to guide what its users are exposed to, and manipulate their thinking.

8) For those that missed your session, what is wrong with a personalized search result?

I think an abundance of personalized search results leads to decreased exposure to alternative viewpoints, new ideas, and contradictory concepts. As humans, we should not have our every belief validated and confirmed by the internet – in fact, we should have our ideas and beliefs challenged and debated. And that means we need to expose ourselves to opposing viewpoints and alternative modes of thought. Personalized search does the exact opposite: it wraps us up in the same information from the same sources and filters out information we don’t want to see. It basically enables cognitive bias on a massive scale, and that is a bad thing.

9) What is a filter bubble and why should marketers be aware? Any resources on the topic?

The filter bubble concept, first coined by Eli Pariser who wrote a great book on the topic, is the result of excessive personalization on the web, where search engines and social media sites only present us with information they know we want to see and engage with. And this information is not necessarily correct, but we might not ever know that because contradictory sources are increasingly filtered out. So we end up with unshakable beliefs that are never challenged, and these beliefs could be entirely false. Like I said, the filter bubble is an enabler for cognitive bias, where we become increasingly entrenched in our own little worlds of information we agree with, and as a result we become increasingly disassociated from the real world where there are opposing viewpoints and different opinions.

10) How can marketers counter or adapt to the filter bubble?

I think being aware of the filter bubble is the first big step. From there on we should take conscious steps to avoid becoming trapped in our own filter bubbles: disable personalised search in Google, use Amazon when logged out, actively seek out Facebook friends you don’t see in your feed, read news from different websites, etc. Exposure to ideas and opinions we might not agree with is vital for ongoing personal growth and development – at least, it is for anyone who values truth.

11) What are alternatives to Google people should be exploring?

DuckDuckGo is a great search engine that does not personalise its search results and that, in fact, stores no information at all about its users. So it’s a great privacy-friendly search engine as well. For other Google services, there are plenty of individual alternatives available like Yahoo Mail, Dropbox, Skype, etc. The advantage that Google has is that it combines all these services in one easy to use platform, which is why it’s so hard for people to distance themselves from the Google ecosystem.


Dixon Jones

Dixon JonesDixon Jones was the only presenter who was focused purely on data and insights possible due to MajesticSEO’s massive treasure trove of data. Dixon is the Marketing Director of MajesticSEO, a link research and insight platform. He also shared his insights regarding the 2,482,001,145,270 URLs that their crawler has seen covered in one of their recent blog posts “A Word About Scale“. It’s always interesting talking with the marketers who build tools that we use all the time because they often have interesting tips on how you can use the tool better. They also listen to feedback on how to improve the tool so it’s more useful to marketers.

Dixon’s presentation started off with a shout out to Moz for the hard work that their team and contributors put into gathering insights from leaders in the search industry. He also commended SearchMetrics for their data led dive into what influences Google search results.

1) How did you find the crowd at FOS14?

Great! Just a taxi drive from Schipol! Excellent (and very international) speaker lineup.

 2) Was there anything that surprised you about FOS14?

A few things. Firstly, the turnout was much higher than I expected. For a first event – and knowing how hard others have struggled in Amsterdam – this was packed to the rafters. I also loved the quirky, yet incredibly central, venue. Glad there wasn’t a fire though!

3) What other speakers session did you catch?

A few. I quite enjoyed Bastion Grimm’s talk on security issues with WordPress.

 4) What do you think Google might be doing with Disavow Tool data?

Google never takes an action without having at least two reasons. Often only one reason has an outward focus. The first benefit is clearly for the user, as we have certainly seen Google now seems to be reacting to disavow lists more and more promptly, easing the pain of recovery from Penguin penalties. However – the lists also give Google new data on where habitual link farms lie. If a domain is on one or two separate disavow lists – that may be random. If it is on proportionally more lists than would be expected for the size of the site, then that’s a flag that may be used to penalize other sites with links from that domain. The result is quite a clinical ‘bad neighbourhood’ index.

There is a third advantage for Google as well – this bad neighbourhood list is not acquired through a public crawl, so other search engines don’t have a comparable list. That makes Google’s data comparatively stronger, structurally.

5) Is Majestic looking at doing anything like crowd sourcing data?

Technically, we already do through our distributed crawler project, but in terms of crowd sourcing disavowed domains, we do think that Flow Metrics have proved effective in highlighting potential problem areas already. Crowd sourcing disavows comes with layers of problems…one is that black hats might use that to distort our data. I guess that’s a long-winded way if saying that I can’t reveal our roadmap.

6) What two competitors do industry research reports well?

Experian (previously called Hitwise) USED to, but now they seem to keep the data close to their chests. Although they are not really competitors, I do like some reports that come out of companies like Brightedge. On the competitor front, I mentioned both Search Metrics and Moz on stage as the strongest reports for the subject I was talking on, but (as they both make clear) the correlation signals are not causation signals – and this dramatically reduces the inference that one can glean from such studies.

7) Do you see ranking signals different by region?

I think that the biggest difference by region is the choice of data sources that Google accesses and indeed the interpretation of the query, which is highly affected by language. It seems penguin is more acute at the moment in the UK, but watch this space!

8) You touched on negative SEO signals are out there, what countries or verticals seem to be more likely to attract unwanted links?

Heh! Well I could list a few…and the UK is on the list next to Russia and Ukraine. But a bad link is not country dependent. The link farms have spread far and wide. Ultimately, there’s a set of really bad networks identified by Google manually – but now it is Google’s disavow lists that are answering the “where”, not geography.

9) Has majestic or any of your agency peers felt the impacts of negative SEO?

We did not feel an impact – but we did receive a negative signal, which we were able to mitigate before it took hold. I am not going to go into how we dealt with our instance. However – I have seen instances of negative SEO affecting sites now. Negative SEO, though, is an expensive, risky and ultimately an unfulfilling strategy, which is why it is not totally rampant.

9) Do you think penguin got it right for most sites?

Yes. It was really very effective. Further, I think it has started to change (for the better) the SEO culture of the countries and sites affected most.

10) What’s in a link? Is there more to a link than we think?

In links you can measure power, passion, influence, context, sentiment, intent, proximity, co occurrence, concurrence, timeliness… Yes, links are an interesting signal. They represent one of only two ways of accessing data on the web. You either type in a URL or click a link. Now with mobile and tablet, links increase rather than decrease as a navigation aid.

11) What is one key take away from FOS14 that you hope attendees got?

An appreciation of the wider picture I hope. That a single signal cannot be mined for long in isolation, because a green flag can turn red easily.


Wouter de Rijk

Wouter de RijkWouter de Rijk is an Online Acquisition Marketer for Dutch online retailer since 2007. He is responsible for search strategy and affiliate marketing channels but also an active social media user found tweeting from @wouterderijk.

There is actually interesting story behind why I attended Wouter’s session. I went to the wrong room by accident, only to discover too late that his whole session “Case Study: Search Engine Marketing Lessons” would be presented in Dutch.  It was clearly marked on the guide with a language symbol, but the room was already far too crowded to leave so I decided to stay and see what I could learn. I must admit, it was tough to understand some of the more specific elements, but his presentation was easy to follow and quite visual. So I was still able to follow most main elements he covered and I did learn a bit more about the Dutch online retail market.

1) How did you find the crowd at FOS14?

The crowd was a good mix with people from E-commerce parties, agencies…and gurus! This good mix led to great networking opportunities and discussions between the sessions.

2) Was there anything that surprised you about FOS14?

Yes, that last year was a game changing year for search! SEO is more and more about engaging and inspiring content, and in AdWords it gets harder and harder to achieve a good CPA. It was good to hear that some old school guys are emphasizing that trend!

3) What other speakers session did you catch?

I’ve seen the keynote Marcus Tandler and I have to give that dude loads of kudos for his presentation. Not only did he managed to show 396 slides in 30 minutes, he also showed me what Google will pursue in the coming years. I also saw the presentations given by Joey Peters, Dixon Jones and Yves Schebestra and Oz Har Adir. The last two guys gave a very impressive look in their AdWords campaign structure.

4) As a Dutch marketer did you find it easier to present your season in Dutch?

When I was contacted I was told that the presentation could be given in Dutch and so I did. Of course it’s easier than presenting in English, but I might try that next time!

5) Do you have a link to a slideshare for your presentation for those that missed your session?

Unfortunately not. To strengthen my story I had to share a lot of data that can’t be placed online.

 6) Your Inspiration area of your website is quite impressive as a content marketing strategy how long has it been active and was it a hard idea to sell into the team?

The inspiration section has been live for a few months now and the inspiration section on our website is part of our emotional commerce strategy. We try to show products in a fun and inspirational way, apart from our product pages. It isn’t a hard idea to sell into the organization, but it takes a lot of time to create the content.

7) Your session touched on successful use of AdWords re-marketing campaigns have you found the inspiration content helps in that success?

We are testing this at the moment, but yes it helps! Conversion rates are higher on returning customers who have visited the inspirational section.

8) is based in Utrecht but have you found that being located outside of Amsterdam changes the culture of your team and how they do marketing? Is it less corporate?

Not at all! Amsterdam is just 35 kilometers away from Utrecht, so quite some of my colleagues are traveling from the capital city to Utrecht on a daily basis. And the corporate part, we’re managing everything by ourselves. We deal with logistics, finance, customer service and of course online marketing. Me and my colleagues are young, creative, and motivated to create something awesome out of For as far as fun at the office, you’ll just have to check this tweet 😉


9) During your presentation you didn’t touch much on social media ads, but is that something that might change in 2014?

It might and we are testing with social advertising but for us, being on a social platform such as Facebook is like being in a bar. People are mainly interested in each other and they use your brand as part of their identity (this is a quote made by our online marketing manager, Jeremiah Albinus). Ask yourself if you’d like to see loads of ads in a bar, I know I won’t. Therefore we use social channels mainly to gain engagement with our fans.

10) How have you found competing against established players like and CoolBlue?

We are, just as Coolblue and, an established player in the Netherlands. We’ve got over 10 years of experience as an online retailer and we distinguish ourselves with our emotional commerce strategy. As for SEM, we are creative in search and we´re always searching for new opportunities in organic search like the inspirational articles on our website. In AdWords we optimize our ads for a maximum CTR by constantly creating new ads and extensions. At we believe in our own strength, therefore I guess you guys will be hearing a lot from us in the future!

11) What is one tip for e-commerce players to try that you are able to share?

Just read this quote made by Avinash Kaushik and check whether all your marketing campaigns are in compliance. It’s a basic, but highly effective, rule for all the online marketers at


Kevin Gibbons

Kevin GibbonsKevin Gibbons is a well-known speaker on the topic of content marketing, and it was actually the first time I got to see one of his sessions in person.  I’ve seen many a slideshare presentation,  but this was my first time seeing him present and I quickly understood why he speaks at so many events! He was a brilliant speaker on content marketing.

Kevin Gibbons is the Managing Director of and a prolific blogger and social media marketer who can be found sharing and engaging from @kevgibbo. He was also able to answer some more detailed questions based around his presentation.

1) How did you find the crowd at FOS14?

It was a great crowd and a really good venue, with around 250 people – so a great size to get around and meet lots of people, without this being too large – and Dutch people are incredibly friendly so it’s always good fun!

2) Was there anything that surprised you about FOS14?

The level of quality from not just speakers, but also attendees was very good. I spoke at a couple of European search events last year, and they felt a year or two behind, but the Dutch market seemed to be much more on top of their game in my opinion.

3) What other speakers session did you catch?

Sadly I just attended the sessions in English, unlike David, although I think his was more by accident than design! But there were some great presentations, Marcus Tandler’s keynote especially – along with useful talks from ex-Googlers Kas and Fili, and some excellent WordPress tips from Joost de Valk and Bastian Grimm.

4) What is wrong with still chasing the Google algorithm?

There’s nothing wrong with it if that’s the game you want to play. But it’s very much a short-term focus and you can pretty much guarantee that as soon as you move onto the next thing, Google is probably going to start chasing that! Some people like to play by those rules, but my advice for clients is to always put the brand and your customers first–think about what it is you want to achieve and then execute a digital strategy around that for all channels.

5) Your presentation is very detailed, was that part of your content marketing plan for post-event consumption if people missed your session?

When giving a presentation, you always want to give a bit extra to the people who made it to the session of course – however I do intend on doing a full write-up on this and always look to share my slides after the event for those who couldn’t make it, or want to go back over again.

6) Should marketers be just doing content marketing purely for SEO and Links?

The answer people will be looking for is no – but the reality is yes, they do. I think you have to balance your approach somewhere in between – yes you should have an SEO strategy, but it shouldn’t be short-sighted and just focus on the link. You also need a digital PR strategy to execute this, remembering that the best links come as a by-product of great content.

7) What’s the value of building your strategy around an audience?

It means the audience is on your side! If you’re a big brand that can be huge and that’s when you can really start to leverage brand assets to a wider audience of people.

8) Have you noticed vertical search changing marketers tactics?

It’s probably pushing people more towards paid listings if I’m honest. But if you’re in the car insurance space, for example, you’ll want to make sure you’re listed as a Google compare provider so that you don’t miss out to competitors.

9) If you rely just on Google what’s the chances of long-term success?

It’s a risk! This was one of the key points of my presentation, and I’m not saying that it won’t be possible to succeed solely with Google as a traffic source, but there’s no guarantee that it will be that way forever. The best brands always have a mix of traffic sources and that builds a much more sustainable, long-term strategy where they can engage with their customers across multiple channels.

10) What European brands are doing great content marketing?

We’ve been involved in some really fun campaigns in the travel space recently for some European clients – generally this involves bigger projects and more research to provide valuable insight which can be used to really tell a story with the audience it’s crafted for.

11) What’s the importance of multiple touch points (social, mobile, email)

It’s vitally important – just from a simple sales perspective it commonly takes people between 5 and 8 touch points to make a purchase – you want to make sure those are in quick succession so that the potential customer doesn’t forget you and that means you need to be easy to find in as many ways as possible.


Bastian Grimm

Bastian GrimmBastian Grimm co-runs, a full-service agency based in Berlin, Germany. I have to say Bastian’s session was one of my favourites purely because of the number of awesome tips that kept pouring out during his session on “Hardening WordPress – Various Tweaks for Better WP Security”.  Bastian was kind enough to answer some followup questions about how he found the event before he jumped on a flight and you can always follow him @Basgr for even more tips.

1) How did you find the crowd at FOS14?

Overall I found FoS14 surprisingly well done! Don’t get me wrong – but I’ve attended more than 30 shows last year and especially first-timer events often struggle to get basics right. That said, things fit nicely at FoS14 – and that surely includes the crowd as well. Besides the fact that the event was completely sold out (which really showed the high demand for such an event in Amsterdam) people there were highly engaged and very friendly. I had some good fun speaking there.

2) Was there anything that surprised you about FOS14?

I wouldn’t say surprised per-se – but the venue was absolutely amazing. This theater was pretty cool and felt way better compared to the usual conference center venues for most other events. However to be fair: It surely is also a matter of how many people are actually attending. But yeah, this stood out to me.

3) What other speakers session did you catch?

Well…some at least: Saw parts of my buddies Marcus, Kaspar and Fili – but mainly spent the rest of the time meeting friends and do a bit of networking.

4) What are your top 3 recommendations for improving your WordPress security?

As per my talk, I would suggest starting with the following

  • Always up-to-date  installation
  • A stripped down version with only what you really need
  • Properly setup backup routines.

But then again, this is really basics (even though it still seems a big issue to get this right) so talking about settings and plug-ins I’d say

a.      Get the setup right (wp-config: Have those salts in place and switch to a custom table prefix)
b.      Prevent brute-force as much as possible (Get rid of the “admin” user, implement two-factor-authentication & limit the amount           of logins; potentially switch to SSL)
c.      Care (monitor & block) requests coming in (either move wp-folders and / or use a plugin like block bad queries)

5) What are your thoughts on central platforms like ManageWP for management?

I think once you have more WordPresses running, there is not much of a choice but to use one of them – or employ someone who does nothing but updates day in and out (and trust me you don’t want to do that). That said, I think it’s nice to have different options these days and be able to try different players such as and others. There surely is a downside though as well: you need to trust in them doing an insanely good job because of providing your logins, but you know… it’s this or that.

6) What about two-factor authentication for logins?

I absolutely would recommend using it. No matter if means using Googles Authenticator or something like CLEF or Duo Security, which I like a lot. I just makes it way harder to force a way in and is pretty simple to implement and use. So definitely do it!

7) What plugins do you recommend for people to harden WordPress?

Since these really depend on the situation you’re in, that list would be quite long! There are a couple of WordPress presos in my SlideShare, feel free to poke around.

 8) What is the first thing you should do if you discover your site has been hacked?

Depends on the hack, but generally speaking – and especially if you’re used to distribute malware – lock the site down. You don’t want to infect random people ending up on your property (not considering legal consequences at all).

9) What is the last thing you should do if you discover your site has been hacked?

Go to Google Webmaster Tools and tell them that things are alright and back to normal again, usually you should be back in SERPs within the next 48 hours (however it depends a bit on how long you have been offline and were distributing things).


Fili & Kaspar

Fili WieseKaspar SzymanskiFili Wiese and Kaspar Szymanski are both former members of the Google Search Quality team and presented two sessions at FOS14 . Combined, these SEOs have spent close to 15 years hunting Web spam, educating webmasters, and improving the quality of Google search results worldwide.  I think it’s always interesting to see what Xooglers from the search quality team have to say about SEO and spam, and I was not disappointed. After the session, they held extra discussions and some time out to chat with conference attendees.  They were both kind enough to jointly answer some questions regarding the event and their insights on the search industry. For more information, you can follow them on Twitter @Filiwiese and @Kas_Tweets

1) How did you find the crowd at FOS14?

Enthusiastic. The worst nightmare of any engaging speaker is an audience too shy to ask a question. FOS14 guests were clearly not like that at all. Which was great for us! We got a ton of search questions and, of course, we hope the audience was able to take some actionable advice on their way home.

2) Was there anything that surprised you about FOS14?

Best we can tell there was hardly any no-shows, even though it was the first Friends of Search organized in Amsterdam! No question doubt, having industry super stars such as Marcus Tandler, Joost de Valk, and Bastian Grimm helped a lot to attract the right kinda crowd. Very cool to see a brand new, successful industry event growing in one of our favourite cities in Europe.

3) What other speakers session did you catch?

Marcus’ keynote was spectacular, as always. All three of us are friends, and we have seen Marcus speak before, but it’s just exciting every time! Bastian Grimm’s and Joost de Valk’s session on WordPress security and SEO were superb, a must for every WP user, in fact! We are probably not doing justice to other speakers though because after our presentations we tend to get caught up in conversations and have little time to see much of the other presentations.

4) What do you think Google might be doing with Disavow Tool data?

You need to keep in mind that while we are both former Search Quality team guys these days, we only speak for ourselves and about our current experience but not on behalf of our former employer.

If it were up to us it would be foolish not to use this data one way or another. As Fili suggested during the conference, we can see a situation where Google would use this data as one of many data points for fine tuning the Penguin algorithm. Keep in mind though, Google has many different methods to detect link spam and we don’t believe they would rely fully on this user-generated data. At most it will be a signal to identify the most egregious link spammers. It looks like Barry misunderstood Fili, as by no way did we (Kaspar or Fili) indirectly admit that Google is using this data, rather suggested this to be a common sense possibility. Put yourself in Google’s shoes, would you not try to make this data more useful?

TweetThe above question was focused around Barry’s Tweet

5) You used to work with the search quality team, what was the biggest change in moving into working as a SEO in the same space you used to police/review?

We never perceived our contribution to the quality of Google Search Results quality as police work. Rather than that, it was a challenge to stay ahead of the spammers and deliver a great search experience for Google users. Google provides a unique work environment. Getting out of that comfort zone, designing new workflows and products, helping clients to recover their sites from penalties and to be better indexed by search engines are just few of the reasons why we are so excited about our profession.

6) How often do you meet SEOs that you dealt with when working on the spam team?

Search is a very small industry, everyone knows everyone and we constantly share thoughts.

7) What is your advice to companies having an exact number of links built each month?

Don’t do it. It’s likely link spamming. You will get in trouble if you continue that strategy. Instead adhere to the Webmaster Guidelines of the different search engines and focus your link building efforts on links that get you more relevant traffic to your website which may convert.

8) You talked on making link profiles look natural. If you are trying to get links, is that a sign it may not look truly natural?

That’s a misconception! It has never been about making backlink profiles look one way or another, it’s about actual natural references, follow or not. What counts is convertible, quality traffic and conscious, superb user experience marketing. In our opinion, organizations still stuck in the link building dogma will either have to evolve or they may disappear from natural search results.

9) What is the one dumb thing you hope SEOs stop doing to clients in 2014?

Focusing on or promising exact rankings such as, #1 for query XYZ. With all the changes search engines are continuously making to the SERP’s that’s just nonsense.

10) Google just announced they have hit 2 Polish link networks but are still going after Germany, should people be afraid?

Google working on link abuse prevention is no news. The Google Webmaster Guidelines detailing unnatural links have not changed much in the big picture sense. Site owners who used link schemes and wasted their resources on these shortcuts rather than on sustainable reputation growing should be afraid. If they have not been hit yet, then it is only a matter of time. Instead we recommend that these site owners change their ways if they want to be able to compete long-term  for relevant traffic in the future.

11) Did penguin algorithm stop crap SEO link building or just create something closer to Russian roulette for many websites?

In our opinion, both Panda and Penguin were positive game changers for the SEO world. The both helped the SEO industry refocus from shady shortcuts to solid and sustainable optimisation techniques.


Cedric Chambaz

Cedric ChambazWe live in a world wherein Google has a monopoly on Search, Advertising, Analytics, Video, Mobile and Apps; so it’s refreshing to see senior marketers from Microsoft’s search team (Bing) speaking at search conferences on what else you should be looking.  Sadly, I missed Cedric presentation as I was attending another session. However, I found this link, Bing: Inspired by Technology & Consumer Trends, which is worth a look as the presentation slides are brilliant.  I was able to speak with him between sessions briefly about Bingbot and Bing’s audience starting to grow in European markets. You can follow him on Twitter @CEDRICtus.

1) How did you find the crowd at FOS14? and was there anything that surprised you about FOS14?

FOS14 attendees are extremely search savvy, or Google savvy I should say. Even if I appreciate the dominant position of Google in the Netherlands (i.e. over 90% market share), I was nevertheless surprised by the slight lack of attention to exogenous trends and activities in search, not only from Microsoft but also from other search actors. Think of Facebook, Yandex, or even Baidu, these players alongside Bing, are driving some major evolutions today in search that Google is not overtly tapping into. Being on top of these trends could ensure that marketers anticipate the future rather than react to it. After all, the topic of the event was the future of search!

2) What other speakers session did you catch?

I attended all English-speaking sessions, and really valued Barry Adam’s presentation on the tunnel effect of personalised search, as it also raises some very deep industry questions about the intrinsic nature of the web, serendipity, and the risks of what I personally refer to as digital propinquity (a generation of digital inbreed).

3) What industry verticals do you think are doing great things with Bing? Also what is one company that you think is doing great things with Bing?

The Yahoo Bing Network has been busy expanding its geographical footprint (35 markets) and enriching the capabilities of our Bing Ads platform. As a result we have seen the number of our advertiser grow and some very creative adoption of our capabilities, whether we are talking about new ad formats or leveraging our transparent access to data.

Retailers and Travel companies were prone to early adoptions of our location extensions which features your point of sale address and contact details in the ad, and to leverage SiteLinks to deep-link to the heart of their offering. In fact, combining these ad extensions has generated some pretty healthy performance uplift around the region. Other brands have used our Rich Ads in Search to embed brand building videos in their ads. New Zealand Airlines for instance capitalized on their tie-in with The Hobbit and saw their clicks increase by +27% at first, and up to +55% when the buzz about their unique partnership went viral.

Finally, I always like to see how customers leverage the insights we empower them with. For instance, Bing Ads Intelligence is this little Excel add-in which gives you access to the Bing Ads history, enables advertisers to enrich their keyword libraries, but also to inform their bid strategy by reviewing the demographics and monetization behind each keyword. Data is at the core of our industry, but by providing transparent access to it and by enabling customer-friendly visualisation of this data really, Microsoft really commits to acting as a true partner and our clients value that support.

4) How is Bing positioned for the Omni-channel experience?

Bing is much more than a web service. It is a platform at the core Microsoft strategy, and a connective tissue between all our integrated experiences. Bing historically played a key role in MSN and, but we are now using the capabilities of our search technology to power Windows, Windows Phone, Office, Skype, Xbox… So Bing as a platform is clearly a core element for omni-channel consumer experience. It is important to remind advertisers that if Bing is a key constituent of the Yahoo Bing Network, it is “just” one of many. Microsoft and Yahoo have complementary forces that brands can capitalize on. In mobile for instance,  Bing is available across all platforms, but it is obviously the default on Windows Phones which is growing very fast in Europe. In turn, Yahoo is a key player of the iOS ecosystem, which explains why Bing Ads has a strong position on mobile all up.

5) How is Windows 8.1 Smart Search going to change search experience?

In a modern internet usage, going to a web page to perform a search feels dated. Bing Smart Search in essence turns Windows into a search box that connects users to the information around them, on their device, their cloud or the web. That has significant impact on an industry who does not necessarily think of operating systems as search boxes and optimizes primarily for a paradigm of blue links. Specifically, Bing Smart Search provides users with a powerful, touch-friendly experience that makes the most of Bing information architecture. It provides access to web results in an innovative SERP with a strong emphasis on visual, but Smart Search also taps into Bing-powered apps that act as vertical experiences. Both have the same ambition, to empower the user with the relevant information to enable him to complete the task that motivated the query.

6) How important is mobile to the future of search? How much does the future of mobile search rely on improved voice search and how much is based on spatial awareness and personalization?

Mobile is not important, but critical. We currently see 2-3x annual growth on mobile and tablet-originated queries on the Yahoo Bing Network in Europe and these queries complement rather than cannibalize the traditional desktop queries. It is thus vital for advertisers to truly understand the nature of mobile intent and offer user experiences, from the keyword selection, to the ad and the landing pages, that meet these needs. It might be an investment for some brands today, but it has become a must-have. I am a strong advocate of mobile-specific campaigns, because intents on such devices are much more immediate, transactional, etc. than on a PC. So I am glad that our Bing Ads platform enables advertisers to refine their campaign all the way down to the operating system of a device, if they want, to target the right customers in the right manner.

7) What is the new search paradigm people need to think about with Bing?

“The web is dead, long live the internet!” Wired’s provocative headline from 2010 has never been truer. Search imposed itself as our gateway to the web, but the rise of new consumer scenarios is driving profound changes in how publishers and advertisers need to approach the search paradigm. People search differently. They use new, interconnected devices. They formalize their intent differently. The blue links are thus being replaced by new, more engaging, and relevant experiences aligned to these new models.

Microsoft’s vision of search already materialised itself by making Bing a platform at the core of Microsoft vertical integration. It turns your phone, your PC, your operating system, your console but also your spreadsheets and your word documents into search entry points to fulfill different intents. It is no longer about pointing people to content, it is a matter of helping them complete tasks. And this radical change of lens of what search should do offers advertisers with new advertising opportunities to explore, with traditional search ads, partnerships or even display solutions.


What did the event accomplish?

Along with raising the profile of the search industry in the Netherlands, a portion of the ticket sales from the event also went to raise 4,000 Euros for the Dutch Red Cross, which was a really great outcome at the end of a busy and hectic day of sessions.

Rode KruisImage Credit

Feelings on the event?

The event was a wonderful day and it also carried on into the night with a large group of conference attendees at Bar Italia with some great food, good wine, cold beers, and good company.  Like many others, I’m sure that I’ll be back for Friends of Search 2015. For more amazing images from the event visit their official Flickr album.

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David Iwanow Global Search & Traffic Manager at Travel Network

Starting in 2019 I’m now based back in Amsterdam working for Danone Early Life Nutrition as Global Search & Traffic ...

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