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Ajay Chowdhury: Understanding the secretive art of SEO – and how some companies have nailed it

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Ajay Chowdhury, CEO of Seatwave discusses how London has become a hub for smart digital innovation

From skilled craftsmen and groundbreaking playwrights to some of the world’s best artists, architects and authors, London has for centuries been an innovation hotspot. That heritage of creativity is now fuelling how companies approach modern business challenges – marketing, advertising and tech are firmly London’s forte.

Forbes recently named London as the most influential city in the world based on eight criteria, including the number of corporate headquarters and the level of foreign investment. But London’s talent can be most keenly felt in how new companies and individuals are taking on the big corporates through digital innovations like mobile, search engines and social networks.  A great example of this is SEO – leveraging Google, a modern-day corporate giant, to grow new businesses.

In the old days, by which I mean about four or five years ago, businesses paid for link building and spent a lot of time and money on ‘SEO-optimising’ pages on their website to bulk up search results.  Like much of traditional advertising it was frequently the deepest pockets and largest workforce that won. This approach to SEO is no longer the most effective path to go down. Google is much more inclined to reward natural buzz, content sharing and engagement – i.e. real people finding what you have to say interesting – with a top search result position as reward.

This has played right into the hands of London’s creative and publishing industries. By eschewing the ‘spend more than the rest’ of link building, London-based start-ups and bloggers are delivering smart, creative campaigns that draw interest from consumers and drive SEO.  And London, a city which draws creative and technical talent from around the UK and the world, is just the right melting pot of people and creativity to develop the great ideas needed to stand out from the crowd.

There are many examples of London-based start-ups that have crafted ingenious SEO and content campaigns. A great example is that of Blinkbox, who placed a dragon skull the size of a London bus on a Dorset beach to promote the launch of Game of Thrones season 3 on their service. Within hours #dragonskull was trending on Twitter with a total of 250 pieces of fully credited coverage appearing in all. On the day of release of season 3 on Blinkbox, the company saw over a 600% year on year increase in revenue and celebrated its biggest day of trading. Taking our own example; Seatwave ranks 1st in Google for the term ‘concert tickets’ beating a giant such as Ticketmaster into second place with good ethical practice and creative SEO thinking.

These creative campaigns are in stark contrast to the stale, numbers-driven SEO game that some corporations still cling to. Not only are the old link-building SEO tactics increasingly ineffective, they are likely to draw the ire of Google if they cross the ill-defined line that separates what is fair game in SEO and what is ‘manipulation’. A number of corporations have fallen into this trap, including fairly recently Interflora, which paid the penalty for an over-zealous advertorial campaign on regional news sites.

Of course interesting content for an SEO campaign is just one facet of getting top search results for your company. Putting together a technically well-built and intuitive site and developing a brand that is liked and valued by its customers also helps to deliver strong search results. Again, London is producing some great brands and digital experiences across all sectors, from music to food and financial services.

As more big companies wake up to the fact that traditional SEO isn’t cutting the mustard and embrace more innovative online marketing strategies, the opportunities for London’s digital creatives will grow. This growth will spur more competition which will in turn help the sector to develop and innovate, helping London to stay ahead of European and American rivals.  

While people may lament the absence of a UK-grown Google, Facebook or Apple, the evidence of London adapting to new business models, innovations and opportunities bodes well for the future of London’s wider tech scene in the global marketplace.

Ajay Chowdhury is the CEO of ticket marketplace Seatwave. He is the former chairman of Shazam Entertainment and ex-CEO and executive chairman of cloud-based retail company ComQi. He is also a non-executive director on the board of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport advising on media and technology issues.

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