By Mathew Beech, marketing director, Patch
When I started in event marketing, email was king. It was quite an easy job back then. At the start of an event’s marketing cycle we bought new data lists, borrowed data lists and had job titles and company lists researched to get more names and email addresses. We emailed and emailed again and sometimes we sent direct mail. When we were really lost, we’d send a direct mail with a job title sweep. The objective was the same as it is now: make more people aware of our event as quickly as possible.
To some people’s surprise, and thanks to grey areas in GDPR, this is still used as a tactic by event organisers, and it still works. That’s probably why so many event organisers overlook SEO.
The usual excuse I hear is that SEO is a long game, events have short marketing cycles and by the time a rank is achieved, any return will be difficult to bank because it will be too close to the event date. It forgets that successful events repeat year after year, and year-round exposure is good.
Another common excuse is that there’s no search demand for an event and that event marketing generates the need instead of fulfilling an existing need (except for repeat delegates but they’re on the email list anyway). I disagree. Events fulfil a need for information and, all year round, the people that attend events turn to search engines to get the same information they seek from the events they attend.
Instead of providing knowledge and solving problems for a few days per year, an event brand could solve problems all year round with search engines. Most event’s content plan is already top notch, it’s called a speaker and exhibitor program and it’s guaranteed to appeal to the people you want to attend your event.
Usually, when I can convince an event organiser that inbound marketing with content will bring more website visitors interested in the things their event offers, they get their marketing team to write content. If we’re honest with ourselves, the real experts at events are not the marketers or the producers, the experts are the speakers and exhibitors.
The simple SEO strategy
- Ask your speakers and exhibitors to submit content that people are looking for on the internet.
- The majority of speakers and exhibitors want to promote themselves; they will jump at the opportunity to have their content hosted on another brand’s site. Especially an event site with guaranteed exposure.
- They will probably share it on social media and perhaps link to it from their site – these are positive SEO signals that will help your site rank.
- If you’ve chosen that speaker or exhibitor for your event, I hope they have something to say that your target market wants to hear.
It is that simple, a few months ago I wrote an article for Conference News that recommended some free tools for keyword research. If you want to get strategic you can research keywords that have an established search volume and ask your speakers and exhibitors to write on that topic.
I recommend getting an SEO professional involved if you have the budget. You can see results without, but an SEO professional will make sure your site and pages are structured following SEO best practice, they’ll advise on production of the content to ensure its written to rank and once it’s published, they will generate off-page SEO signals to earn your site, and its pages, authority to rank above other websites that are producing similar content.
How to turn them into delegates, sponsors and exhibitors
Like the old email lists, not every visitor will be suitable for your event but it’s a numbers game. Even if you get good numbers, you don’t want them to land, read content and go away, forgetting who you are. You want to communicate with them again. There are several ways to communicate with them after the first acquisition through a search engine.
You can engage with them by offering more content (related articles). The more they consume on the first visit, the more chance they will remember the brand and come back to check what’s happening. You can invite them to sign up for email newsletter and/or follow you on social media. If they like the content you publish, that they found in search engines, there’s a good chance they’ll want to sign up for more and perhaps one day, get involved with your event. You can even set up audiences in Google Analytics to place retargeting adverts that promote particular event USPs to past website visitors based on the type of content they consumed during their visit.
You can get really clever with retargeting and SEO combined. If I divide my content into categories, for example innovation, marketing and tech – I can build audiences based on those categories of content. Visitors that land on my innovation content will go into the innovation audience and get served adverts focussing on innovative exhibitors while my marketing audience will go into the marketing audience and get adverts promoting marketing keynote speakers.
How does it work for a conference?
Last year I spoke at the Smart Venue Summit. After the event a member of the marketing team asked me to do a piece on camera saying why the Smart Venue Summit was a great event. I know why they did it, I’ve done it before. They want to use my video testimonial to convince other people it’s worth attending in the future. They have to get the attention of those people first though.
Around the same time, I wrote a blog post on how to write a venue marketing strategy and published it on the Patch website. In the past year, that blog post has acquired 393 visitors to our site and I’m quite sure most of them work in venues.
I don’t mean to criticise the kind people who invited me to speak at the Smart Venue Summit but if they asked me to write a blog post for their site instead of the video, I would’ve jumped at the chance, and they would’ve had 393 extra visits from venues over the past year. I’d have probably done the video as well.
Everyone knows it’s been a bad year for venues, my blog post is still there and it’s still relevant. I have high hopes for next year as things pick up. Content lasts, if you follow this tactic for your event year on year the numbers build up. Imagine if the Smart Venue Summit took my blog (and 393 visits from venues) and did the same with ten other speakers. That number of qualified visitors for free isn’t bad. Now imagine if a large-scale event did it with 100 speakers.
How does it work for an exhibition?
I used to work for the World Interior Design Festival. Back then AkzoNobel (parent of Dulux) would name the Colour of the Year at our event. This is a big deal for a lot of people. So big that in the UK, throughout 2020, the term “Dulux colour of the year 2020” was searched an average of 2900 times per month!
People who care about the colour of the year could potentially attend the festival but even if they didn’t attend, their attention was the attention our sponsors and exhibitors wanted, so it mattered.
We didn’t just host the announcement of Colour of the Year at our event. At our expense, we did a massive PR drive (to generate exposure for our sponsor and backlinks to our site – backlinks are another SEO signal). Every bit of press coverage generated exposure and every link back to our site helped our SEO in general and it helped us rank well for searches performed by people trying to find out the Colour of the Year. We snagged ourselves a few thousand qualified visitors every year by doing nothing more than helping one of our exhibitors get attention.
It’s likely that your exhibitors have news and things to say that their industry (and your target market) wants to hear about. Make sure you support and shout about what’s going on at your exhibition. Talk about it on your social media, talk about it on your website, distribute press releases for them and do anything it takes to give them more exposure. You’ll receive more website visitors that care about your exhibitors and will surely care about your event.