13 lessons learned from 13 years of running in London
10 mins read

13 lessons learned from 13 years of running in London

I have been running Search London, a networking event, for 13 years and it has been so successful that it has become an important part of the SEO conference calendar.

I originally launched the event in October 2010, but I will be celebrating its 13th birthday on February 26, 2024 in central London.

I wanted to share some of the lessons learned so that others who have an idea and want to run events can do so outside of work.

When I launched Search London, my aim was to provide a safe place to share search industry news and promote a wide range of speakers, including those presenting for the first time, to talk about their Talking about case studies and showing the audience how they can also achieve such positive results.

1. Select “Unknown Speakers”.

Many speakers at Search London were initially unknown in the SEO world, but went on to speak at BrightonSEO and other larger conferences.

When I first started speaking it was difficult to get a speaking role as I needed experience – but since I didn’t have any it was very difficult.

I don’t want this to be a barrier to others in our industry who want to get exposure. Over the past 13 years, we have had at least one new speaker at every event, meaning we have heard from over 70 first-time attendees.

2. Make enough time for networking

Search London’s other goal is to provide a safe place for those to learn more about SEO, PPC and social media.

When I was an account director at an agency, I didn’t have the support of a manager to help me – yet as the leader of a team, I had to know more than the members of my team.

That’s why I wanted to create a place where I could learn from each other and have enough time to network and get to know other people in the SEO community.

We start our events at 6:00 p.m. and have the venue until 10:30 p.m., but sometimes we continue until 11:00 p.m

Many lectures start early and we have enough time to discuss the lectures and the topics to be presented.

3. Choose speakers from diverse backgrounds

When I first started Search London, our industry was predominantly male presenters and many with years of experience.

I wanted to achieve a more equal balance with more women than lectures.

I didn’t necessarily want moderators from big agencies or brands, but rather those from small companies or those who run their own business.

I made sure we had a wide range of speakers, not just from London but also from other parts of the world.

With Search London coming online we now have much more reach. I don’t want the location to be a limitation for the speakers.

4. Make it a learning experience and focus on it

I have always preferred practical work to theory.

The speakers present real case studies and none of the presentations are theoretical. What matters is not the amount of budget available for a project, but rather the results.

I always encourage people to ask questions of the audience. Each speaker has a question-and-answer session after the talk, and most presenters remain at the event throughout the evening so that attendees can ask the speakers questions.

Hosting networking events requires a clear agenda and focus.

I didn’t want it to just be a group of people coming together without a specific idea or request. It was therefore important to have at least one speaker.

I wanted to make it as informal as possible since this is an event that people attend after work.

It’s important to remember that event participants have likely been sitting at work all day and need a stimulating environment in which they can move freely and ask questions.

I always put up a screen at the beginning so that people know where the lectures are taking place and the participants can organize themselves.

5. Have scholarship tickets

When I first started running the events, I didn’t purchase scholarship tickets. Instead, I asked companies to buy tickets for their employees.

However, I can offer scholarship tickets now and will do more in 2024.

It’s important to provide companies with an easy way to purchase tickets for their employees to attend your event.

6. Find a central venue with a separate room

When I first ran Search London I was in central London.

After the Corona crisis, not as many people worked in the office and many worked from home. However, location is still very important, so choosing a venue that is central and well connected will make it easier for people to get home after work.

Very often pubs will have an area that can be rented, which can be a good option – but make sure it’s a separate room. Otherwise it can get very loud. Monday and Tuesday nights are typically the cheapest nights to rent a room.

Try to find venues where the minimum spend value is less than £1,000 per night. If you don’t meet the minimum spend, ask if you can buy takeaway drinks or food.

7. Don’t share email addresses

Data protection is a very important issue and when I started recruiting sponsors, many asked for participants’ email addresses.

I have never given out email addresses to sponsors.

If you want to do this, follow BrightonSEO’s example and ask participants when registering if they would like to be contacted by sponsors and would be happy for their personal contact or work details to be shared.

8. Event Fee

In the beginning, Search London was free, like Meetup. This worked well when I didn’t have to meet a spend minimum at the pub.

However, as pubs started charging and it became increasingly difficult to find venues with capacity for more than 50 people, I wanted to have a guarantee on the number of visitors.

By charging a small fee and selling tickets via Eventbrite, attendance numbers were guaranteed. However, there were instances where I didn’t charge because we were staying with a company.

For example, at the first in-person event after COVID-19 in November 2021, we had 193 RSVPs, but there were only 50 people in attendance at the time.

Luckily we didn’t rent a venue as the Trainline team hosted us – but if people had actually bought their tickets there wouldn’t have been such a dropout.

Once people have paid for a ticket, they are much more likely to attend the event, unless of course there is an emergency.

9. Have a good team

You can’t do everything if you want to grow your event.

When I moved to Australia at the end of 2012, I realized I wanted to continue running Search London, but it wasn’t physically possible to come back every two months.

Tim Sheed, who attended the first-ever Search London event, helped organize the in-person events alongside Luella Ben Aziza, Russell McAthy and Mike Chidzey.

When I returned to Europe, Tim helped me and co-organized Search London for the face-to-face events.

10. Leave the meetup once you have a regular group of participants

Search London was originally a Meetup group and is still on Meetup. However, since I started selling tickets to events, they are now sold through Eventbrite.

Over the last few years, as Search London grew, I should have created an online community away from Meetup.com, for example on Facebook or Slack.

11. Build a network

Although I didn’t have an online community or following, like on Slack or Facebook, I was an editor for State of Digital. I started as a blogger and got to know many authors personally.

After building this network of writers at State of Digital, I asked some of them to speak at Search London.

After running Search London, I was invited by Mike Chidzey to co-host SEO Office Hours, where we have an informal weekly conversation with two special guests who answer others’ website and SEO questions.

12. Start sponsoring early

In order to secure sponsorship, it is important to start looking for a suitable sponsor or event location early.

When I first started running these events, I didn’t ask for much sponsorship.

Now I’m asking for sponsorship for as many events as possible.

I would recommend to those starting their own events not to be afraid to ask companies to help with the event.

13. Allow more time than you need for an event

Days and weeks go by quickly, so it is important to give yourself enough time to organize the event. I always like to organize at least two months in advance. I’m asking people to give a talk at Search London.

If you can, try to secure sponsorship from at least one company and have your speakers guaranteed as soon as you set a date.

Never be complacent and assume that people who have been here before will continue to come.

For example, at an event we held in March 2018, we only had ten participants. More had signed up, but due to the extremely cold weather causing snow in some areas, many were unable to attend.

In total

Be open to new ideas and change the format of your meeting.

Although I have been running these events for 13 years and they are successful, it will never become routine.

Choose different venues, different topics to present, new speakers and stay up to date with new ideas and new technologies.

Everything is happening so quickly and it is important to keep up with trends and developments in the industry.

Make it as exciting as possible so that everyone looks forward to the next event and continues to be part of the great SEO community.

More resources:

Featured image by the author