If you’re looking for a round up of what the speakers had to say at Linklove on 15th March 2013, seriously, where have you been all week? By now you have had the opportunity to find the official recap, the infographic (I’m in it!), the SEO Gadget roundup, the Koozai tips list, Kath Dawson’s tip list, Sarah E. Sinfield’s review, not to mention the slides from presentations by Wil Reynolds, Lyndon Atcroft, Hannah Smith, Ian Lurie, Rand Fishkin, Ade Lewis, Claire Stokoe and Will Critchlow. Richard Baxter, of course, performed a live, slide-less demonstration of API calls, but if you want to imagine what it looked like: picture an Excel spreadsheet. Now imagine there is data in it.
My rehashing the content of these presentations adds nothing. You know what they said. If not, you can find out. Therefore, if you don’t mind too much, I’m going to skip ahead a little, share my own perspective and in all likelihood meander through a stream of consciousness before ending with a story about the wrong escalator.
Before there was Wil there was Duncan. Mr Morris tried his level best to whip the crowd up to fever pitch ahead of the first of the day’s presentations, alas without much by way of a response – much to the chagrin of the aforementioned Sarah who was perched on the edge of her seat throughout, primed to whoop and holler at the first sign she wouldn’t be alone in her exuberance.
The title of Wil Reynolds’ presentation was Head Smackingly Simple: Post Conversion Link Building Tips. I’m pretty sure we would all have smacked our heads at some stage, had we the impetus to raise our hands above shoulder height. A few heads smacked off the tables, presumably waking their owners, but I’m pretty sure those don’t count. If the plan was for Wil to deliver a high-energy, inspirational talk to jolt the audience to life then the plan only half succeeded. For me, as someone who had only ever heard Mr Reynolds speak on video before, it was good to see him in all three dimensions; it added depth to the whole thing.
Wil, for all the audience inertia, is an accomplished speaker and a polished one so it was always going to be a difficult task for Lyndon Antcliff to follow him and hold the room. It is therefore hardly surprising that he failed to do so. For Reynolds the audience was interested, but subdued. Lyndon’s presentation was not so successful in retaining everybody’s focus. There are probably many factors that combined to create this scenario and I would imagine that the same reasons do not hold for everyone in the room. I personally struggled with the talk for the same reasons I struggled with the advice contained in it – the lack of brand sensitivity. Just as a client may see zombies, the Harlem Shake or cats eating cheeseburgers as things that do not sit naturally with their brand, so too Lyndon’s “who cares, it gets links” (my paraphrasing) approach seemed to me to sit uncomfortably at this event. Whether the fault lies with the speaker or the organisers is neither here nor there and I think it is not unreasonable to have sympathy for both. I did feel that Antcliff would be a superb contributor in a round-table; workshop; or 1-on-1 setting. On this day, however, and in this setting I didn’t feel that having him make this presentation in this style and with these slides made sense.
Hannah Smith was next and I need to confess at this juncture to being a huge admirer of her work and her style. I was expecting big things from Hannah and I felt she delivered an engaging and energising presentation with a focused and coherent central message. In short, everything I had anticipated. Her talk demonstrated her not insubstantial skill both as an orator and as a storyteller and I suspect that second talent has had a big role to play in her professional success.
It was during Hannah’s moment in the spotlight that I performed a spot of self-analysis and came to a frightening conclusion:
— Iain Bartholomew (@iainbartholomew) March 15, 2013
Fortunately I had been lucky enough to find myself in good company:
— Sarah (@sarahesinfield) March 15, 2013
D’aww! Isn’t she just adorable with her dinky little pen and her perfect little piece of paper and…
— Iain Bartholomew (@iainbartholomew) March 15, 2013
Ah. Moving on…
After an intermission we were addressed by Ian Lurie of Portent, a guy I have a lot of time and respect for. He spoke on Machine Learning with an ample dose of self-deprecation. It’s not a style that works for everyone, but Ian projected an air of genuine humility and quite honestly the approach suits him and suited this presentation in particular. With his intelligence and his subject matter it would have been understandable (though likely not forgivable) if Lurie had produced a talk that made half the room feel stupid, but he skillfully avoided that hazard and delivered his thoughts, his discoveries and his process in an accessible and enjoyable way.
We were graced with the presence of Richard Baxter before lunch, though by now everything was running somewhat behind schedule. With stomachs rumbling and armed only with an Excel spreadsheet Baxter nevertheless was able to hold our attention and almost succeed in making API calls seem fun. If he fell short of ‘fun’, he certainly nailed ‘interesting’ and his easy manner and live, slide-free approach made the work he was demonstrating seem achievable. In truth, however, it may be quite some time before I get around to actually trying to do any of it and that may be because while he was able to convey the ‘how’ perfectly well, I felt he didn’t quite score so heavily with the ‘why’. I was left feeling that this was a cool thing, achievable, but for someone in my position perhaps a little pointless.
Lunchtime was a letdown. Having signed up to a ‘topic table’ I was nevertheless unable to join said table on account of scurrilous individuals who had filled the seats before I arrived. Let it be known that my wrath was terrible and my retribution swift as I immediately walked through to another area of the dining facility, ate quickly and returned to my seat in the main hall, delivering a scathing tweeted response to my new enemies as I went:
— Iain Bartholomew (@iainbartholomew) March 15, 2013
There was much excitement in the room as Rand Fishkin took to the stage (albeit mostly coming from the seat next to mine, where Sarah was pushed close to spontaneous combustion by the combined presence of her hero on stage, just a few feet away, and his very talented and lovely wife (with celebrity chaperone) over our shoulders in the row behind). Whilst there was nothing earth-shattering in Rand’s deck, it was fascinating to watch him present with such energy and apparent conviction. It was clear that he enthusiastically believed in his own message and I could see why this would be compelling in a number of different scenarios. From my relatively close-up vantage point in the second row of the stalls I was able to observe many of the qualities that add up to make Rand a formidable character : honesty, authenticity, passion, drive, focus, humour, knowledge, vision and the skill to deliver that vision.
@iainbartholomew you’re such a fucking fanboy lol!
— Chris Dyson (@ChrisLDyson) March 15, 2013
Wait, what!? Goddamn you Chris!
Ade Lewis was next and he talked about doing SEO for small businesses for £350. I was really excited to hear this because it promised to deliver the secret sauce my tongue had been hanging out for since I first started hanging my tongue out in this industry. His model sounded fine and it clearly works for him, but it wasn’t a method I would see myself adopting, which was a shame. I thought he spoke well though and there was no confusion as to either his message or his method. He received what felt like a sympathetic response from a crowd who could clearly identify with him. Let’s not get too excited, this was not a triumphant show-stealing performance, but it was an honest one and I think that was appreciated by more or less everyone in the room.
Where do I start with Claire Stokoe? I like Claire. I didn’t have any history with her before Linklove, but she was engaging on Twitter earlier in the day, seemed nice and I wanted her to come up and deliver an absolute knockout presentation. The talk was titled “Out of 5 million infographics only 1.3% will give you an orgasm in 0.3 of a millisecond”. It was ironic then that it took at least 10 minutes for Claire to calm down enough for us to see some of her personality coming through. The second half of her deck, however, was presented with charm, confidence and no small amount of fish and grannies: a perfect combination. I suspect she put a smile on almost every face and her message was clear, correct and relevant. It was a remarkable recovery and I suspect the next time I see her speak I’ll get that knockout I was looking for.
Claire’s insight into her experience at Linklove is well worth a read. She’s smart & funny and you’ll like her.
Mr Will Critchlow was the last of the speakers for the day and if you thought I was a fanboy for what I said about Rand you might want to look away now. From the first words Will spoke, right through to his inspirational peroration I was nodding in agreement. Slides 34 and 35 were a particular highlight, but the deck was just pitched right for me. I understood where he was coming from and I understood where he wanted to get to and I lapped up every last second of it. Sure, there were suggested tasks that made me shudder a bit, but I’m pretty sure that was the intention. This is the roadmap I want to follow, no matter how I choose to make the journey.
At this stage I’d like to welcome back those of you who had to nip out to vomit on account of the obsequiousness of that last paragraph. It’s over now. Breathe.
After a Q&A session and a quick wrap-up it was time to decant to a nearby hostelry for the Networking Event/afterparty. Stopping by my hotel to drop off my notes, devices and to grab a sandwich, I intended to delay just a few minutes. Foolishly I opened a packet of pistachio nuts, one thing led to another and an hour later I was heading out for the event, in the rain with no jacket. Damned nuts.
I was concerned that writing about myself might not be well-received, but the response to a couple of recent introspective pieces by Alessio Madeyski and Peter Attia convinced me not to avoid the topic for that reason. I had intended to write a little about the evening event, but to provide the context required I would have had to share some personal information that might potentially upset or cause difficulties for others. Having long ago reached the same conclusion as some smart people that empathy trumps transparency I’m going to pass. It was going to be a genuinely interesting consideration of social proof in a physical networking setting based on my own observations and some of my own interactions. It’s a topic I’d like to look at more in the future, but not today.
My Linklove Saturday was spent in the delightful company of the aforementioned Ms Sinfield as I (who living just 600 miles away apparently qualified as a tour guide) took her on an often bizarre and always enjoyable 7-hour walk around some of London’s sights and sounds in an effort to identify just one patisserie, baker or supermarket stocking or producing her personal preferred indulgence: the fabled Macaroni Pie. Deep fried carbs on carbs with a helping of cheese and cream, it is the kind of cuisine that can only come from one place – Scotland.
Sadly despite our best efforts we were unsuccessful and there was one last indignity to follow. Having said goodbye somewhere under King’s Cross Station I missed a left turn leading me to step on the adjacent escalator to Sarah at the same moment she boarded hers, resulting in a deeply, deeply awkward (and silent) ride to the top before I was able to loop around, return to the level below and make my way home.
If there’s one thing I would like to finish with it’s that the entire Linklove event was an incredible experience. With friendships begun and others strengthened, it is a couple of days that will live long in the memory. In my own particular circumstances it was quite cathartic, but I think you would have to work hard to attend this conference and not take away something of value. Credit needs to go to the ever-incredible Lauren and Lynsey at Distilled for their hard and skillful work in the organisation of the whole shebang, along with the entire technical team on the day. It’s all very well delivering when the lights go down and your mic comes up, but it was these guys who set the stage and made it possible.
Before I go, a quick appeal: I am covering 5k a day for 50 straight days from 31 March to 19 May 2013, approximately the distance from my hometown of Ayr to my brother’s bachelor pad in Newcastle, and trying to raise a little money for Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland in the process. This is a charity that does a tremendous amount of good work for people suffering with issues that have directly impacted my family and many others throughout Scotland.