My review of A4U Expo 2009 - Excel, London

Back at work now having spent the last few days attending this year's A4U Expo at Excel in London. As with last year's review, I'm going to review it through the use of handy bullet points. Please take the negative comments with a pinch of salt as overall I had a good time, but I think there's always room for improvement ;)

Launch party and day one

  • The launch party on Monday night was good, if a little quieter than 2008's I thought. The food was not that great (think thick school style pizza squares!) and ran out quite quickly, perhaps best to give up on that and use money towards the free bar, which dried up by 9.15, not that I was timing it or anything ;)
  • This year they had projectors showing a Twitterfall of the #a4uexpo tag, which was a good idea and encouraged people to tweet a lot more. However, I wonder whether the speakers might have felt slightly depressed looking out across a room of people playing with their mobiles and laptops the whole time!
  • Some good sessions in the morning, but perhaps a little 'samey' to those in 2008. The first one that stood out (for me at least) was Landing Page Success Story by Ben Jesson of Conversion Rate Experts. A very interesting look in to the detailed work which goes in to analysing customer paths, decision making, etc. Bottom line (for SEOmoz at least) was a long, long sales page was the answer to better conversions!
  • Food at lunch time was a big improvement from the airport style sandwiches in a paper bag from 2008. This time around they had chilli and rice in a box as well as cheese and nachos. There were also plenty of drinks and snacks and I didn't see the food run out even after everyone had eaten - which was great.
  • I think everyone who attended this year's show was grateful to John Myers of Mediavest who seemed to be moderating just about every presentation. I'm not sure how he was in two places at the same time, but he seemed to be! He did a good job of mixing a sense of light heartedness with also keep thing ticking along, just how a good moderator should.
  • Another couple of people who seemed to be in two places at once included Bas van den Beld of Search Cowboys who was twittering away in most seminars, including one when I sat behind him - he turned around to spot the mystery person who tweeted him, and looked straight past me... oh the games you play when you're a bit bored, lol! There was also another busy Twitter user @crashone (aka Sander Tamaela) who did a good job of keeping everyone in the loop. Finally there was Mike Evans (@mike20) who, like me, wasn't too afraid to Tweet if they weren't enjoying a session - which led to me (and possibly others) swapping half way through and therefore proving a very useful live service!
  • I tried sitting in on the Google Site Clinic in the afternoon, but it didn't seem (initially at least) to be very well organised with them not collecting URLs for analysis until we were sitting down - I think an improvement for next year would be to ensure that URLs are collected and looked at well in advance, not just for this presentation but for all 'site review' style sessions, of which there were a few. Otherwise you just sit there listening to the panel going "hmm", "errr" and "whats that url again" - which isn't much fun.
  • Having bailed on the Google guys (don't slap me, you seemed like nice guys, lol!) I went next door to see Nadeem Azam do a great talk on the 12 biggest mistakes he'd made over the last 12 years. He did a great job and had the audience laughing away. He somehow managed to include a reference to Hitler (don't be one), Only Fools and Horses, a homeless guy offering to code for money and more!
  • In the evening I met up with a few guys and had some food at the 02 before heading in to the 'official' party (Breakout) at the Inc Club. Walking in past about 6 bouncers, despite the 02 virtually empty, was a bit of a strange introduction. We went upstairs in to a very dark and noisy room. Finally got a drink and took in the surroundings (including strange dancing robot women 'feature'!) before realising there was no chance of hearing each other, let alone doing some networking. Also, unlike the launch party, no-one had bothered to wear their badges which made things even tougher. We left pretty early and checking Twitter when I got back I discovered a number of other affiliates (Chris Clarkson, Clarke Duncan, & Co.) had set up their own party back at the hotel where they could actually hear each other. I'm hoping that Matt and the A4U gang picked up on this and will either have an actual networking area next year, or just go for a different setting.
Day two review
  • Thanks to the lack of networking available the night before, I didn't wake up with a bad hangover and therefore was feeling pretty fresh for the first sessions of the day - Killer Link Building Strategies which I was keen to catch due to Patrick Altoft (of BlogStorm) being on the panel. Interesting session, although it started slightly slowly and heavily (for me least) with the talk by Lyndon Antcliff - perhaps it was just the fact it was first thing in the morning!
  • Next session was on earning more from PPC campaigns by Sri Sharma, and was probably the best session over the two days. He got straight on with actual screen shots and how-tos of tools and techniques that made a lot of sense, such as trying to find patterns in the days and times you make the most sales and then linking that to the day/time you run the ads, or changing the wording of the ads at these times.
  • The Extreme SEO Moderated panel was ok, but a bit of a let down due to a lack of structure and at times it was more like listening to a bunch of guys in a pub chatting about amusing internet related stories, rather than 'extreme' SEO. It was fun enough and David Naylor did a good job of making it entertaining, but I'm not really sure that anyone looking for actual tips and techniques would have been satisfied. Another quick thanks to Ciaran Norris for doing a good job of moderating this, especially his professionalism of dealing with the slightly awkward Tesco suggest thing on Google!
  • Lunch was again another good improvement on 2008 with a choice of 3 generous pizzas, not just a slice or two, but an entire pizza in a box per person, yum!
  • Attended the Affiliate Apocalypse session in the afternoon but didn't really enjoy it. The main outcome from the entire hour was that there is no straight forward answer to replacing last click wins, which we all know anyway. One bit that stood out was when Julia Stent of Vodafone appeared to suggest that people don't visit cash back sites after content sites, instead they go direct to the cash back site to shop, which had both myself and Jason Dale shaking our heads - although I think, judging by his body language, Jason was a little bit more wound up than me ;) But that's why it's great to have him around as he's not another nodding dog and isn't afraid to speak up.
  • Finished off the event at the Fox, which was great. Lots of choice of free drinks and tons of bar staff meant no queues. This is kind of what the Breakout party should have been like...!
So, all in all another great year at A4U Expo. Matt and Co continue to host a great event and I'm intending on going back next year. I hope they continue to look for and accept constructive criticism and continue to tweak and improve A4U Expo so it continues to get better and better.

Update: I'm going to list other blogger's reviews, starting off with SEO Gadget and Top 10 A4U Expo Quotes (from Search Cowboys).


Richard Baxter said…
Hi Geoff - thanks for your feedback on the extreme SEO panel. I think a format like this requires a lot of interaction from the audience, and the previous evening may have played a roll in muting normally active attendees! Ciaran did a great job of driving the discussion forward.

I think I speak on the behalf of each of the panel mebers when I say it's really important to us that you get (actionable) value from these sessions, so with that in mind, if there are any tips or issues you were looking to get answers on, feel very welcome to drop me a line via this contact form.
Geoff said…
Yes I noticed not only in that presentation but also others that virtually no-one (myself included!) seemed to be willing to put their hands up and get involved. Not sure what the reason was, but wonder whether there's a better way of dealing with sessions that need interaction, Kieron tried a twitter hashtag for meet the super affiliates, not sure if it worked well though?
Anonymous said…
Hi Geoff

I attended the A4Uexpo this year and had a great time - lots of interesting seminars and it's a really good opportunity to meet lots of different people and learn something new.

My favourite seminars were:

1. Landing Page Success Story by Ben Jesson of Conversion Rate Experts

2. Nadeem Azam - 12 biggest mistakes over the last 12 years

3. PPC campaigns by Sri Sharma

Hopefully I'll be back next year....

Jonathan Cannovan
Unknown said…
thanks Geoff, very kind of you

Unknown said…
I wouldn't agree with Julia's (and I think Helen) made the same comment about cashback sites.

The first rule of cashback club is to delete your cookies and tracking information off your computer (prior to click) so you know you will get the sale. This makes it really hard for networks and merchants to track this activity in line with other channels.

You could do it by IP and User-Agent matching to make a best guess scenario but it is unlikely any networks or merchants have done this.
Great write-up.

Cheers Geoff and Jonathan for the kind comments about my talk.

Look forward to catching up with you soon.
Julia Stent said…
Hi Geoff

Glad you enjoyed (most of) the Expo, I think it was a great couple of days. It looks like my comment really got picked up on by you and Jason so I thought it would be worth clarifying.

From the data I've been running to look at our journeys to sale, it appears that cashback sites stand out as the sole interaction for a lot of sales. It's important to take into account what I'm looking at here - I defined an interaction as one click from an affiliate site to a merchant site. As a merchant, I don't have visibility on where the traffic came from before hitting that cashback site.

For what it's worth, I've just had a quick play around on Hitwise looking at some of the top cashback sites clickstreams and for most of them none of their top sources of referring traffic are what I would class as affiliate content sites. That's not to say this gives the whole picture and data might be different if you looked at in more granular detail.

My overall point was related to data I have access to. If you've got data about the downstream traffic from your own content sites that shows cashback as a big issue then I think this is something it could be really valuable to share from a merchant perspective, as this is something we can never see.

I also really want to point out the value that Vodafone places on content affiliates - we're not solely about supporting big volume drivers. We work with a great long tail of affiliates we have actively cultivated over the last couple of years. We are obviously aware that if content affiliates don’t continue to see stable ROI, we will lose this valuable sales channel which is part of the reason for doing this analysis and looking at new reward mechanisms.

Hope that gives a bit more background to a comment that might have looked strange in isolation


Cool to see you appreciated my Tweets!

I really enjoyed A4u this year, maybe next year we could catch a beer or something ;)


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