In September 2016, BrightonSEO welcomed 3,500 search marketers to the Brighton Conference, making it the biggest specialist search marketing conference in the world. But its origins are far smaller than the huge Brighton Centre venue the event now calls home.
As with many an idea, BrightonSEO was born out of a conversation over a drink in a bar as founder and chief organiser, Kelvin Newman, explains:
"Me and some other SEOs were talking in a pub. We wanted to get a few people together who work in SEO, arrange a couple of talks and give people who work in the industry a chance to meet-up. The idea was to share ideas and chat about all the interesting stuff that we can't really talk about with anyone outside the industry for fear of them falling asleep."
Despite a small venue, turnout was good for the first meetup in a room above a pub:
"Word got out and more people showed up than we expected. So, next time we booked a larger room. Again, more and more people showed up than we planned!"
Moving to the Brighton Dome
BrightonSEO grew organically, with interest growing with each meet up. This eventually resulted in a move to the iconic Brighton Dome venue. With a large portion of tickets available freely, many others at a low cost and an event with a growing reputation, it became something of a battle for would-be attendees to get their hands on tickets. Newman explains,
"The events just kept selling out quicker and quicker each time. For our September 2015 event, we sold 1,500 tickets in 60 seconds. It became clear at that point that we'd need to move to a bigger venue."
Bootstrapping its Way to Becoming the Biggest Search Marketing Event Globally
With a bigger venue needed, BrightonSEO moved to the nearby Brighton Center. It was this move that turned it from a popular and much loved search marketing conference, to the biggest in the world, despite Newman having no experience in events at all:
"We doubled the size and went to 3500 attendees. In a single move, we think we became the biggest specialist search marketing conference in the world. That is mind blowing because I'm not someone with an extensive background in events, we've bootstrapped all the way and never taken any external funding."
"A lot of people can't understand how we make money when so many of our tickets are free. They're not all free though. About fifteen percent of our tickets are paid for and we've got sponsors as well. Really, it's a freemium business. Our free tickets also act as our marketing for the paid tickets."
A Platform for New Speakers
BrightonSEO was the second event I personally spoke at and the first in which I had a solo slot. I'm far from the only speaker who has benefitted from this conference and Newman makes it his business to find great new talent:
"We keep a really close eye on who has got the most interesting social profiles and blogs. Someone who we know is knowledgeable sometimes just needs a little nudge to get started as a speaker. We love finding new speakers with a distinctive voice."
Highs, Lows and the Future of BrightonSEO
With one event at the Brighton Centre under its belt and another due in April, BrightonSEO goes from strength to strength. But with such phenomenal and largely organic growth comes new highs and lows for Newman and his team:
"If I had to choose a highlight, it would be when the event hashtag was trending on Twitter above Barrack Obama's visit to the UK. Or maybe the time when we sold out in sixty seconds. I needed to have a lie down after that happened!"
"That said, we've definitely over stretched ourselves in the past. In 2014 we ran 13 different conference events, mostly based on the same model as BrightonSEO but covering different topics. I nearly had a nervous break down and we didn't make any money. The next year we ran three events and made a load more money. Deciding to say no to a good idea is always really hard."
Events of this scale will undoubtedly continue to bring challenges for the organising team, but rarely have I encountered enthusiasm like that of the SEO industry for this twice-yearly event - now the biggest of its kind in the world.
Free tickets for the April 2017 event are launched on 7th November 2016 here.