• katherine Nwanorue

Google Search Central Virtual Unconference 2022: My Experience Co-facilitating a Session

As you may already know, Google's global Search Central Virtual Unconference 2022 was held on April 27th this year.


In case you aren't familiar with the Unconference, it's an event where site owners, SEOs, Developers, digital marketers, and Google product teams get together to exchange ideas and feedback on Google Search. The idea is to move from a formal conference-like setting to a networking session where everyone is encouraged to participate and share input that'll help Google (and other participants) deliver more value.


This is the third year the event has been held, and this time, there were 127 attendees from 44 countries!


Fun fact? When I attended the conference, in April, I was just 2 months into learning Tech SEO. It was the first SEO event I had been to.


So, how did a newbie get an invite to Google Search Central's discussion and networking session?


It was through a LinkedIn connection turned mentor—Luke Bastin. Luke has been one of the most supportive persons in my Tech SEO journey. He not only readily answers any questions I have but is always willing to share resources such as templates, SEO tutorials, and anything he thinks would be useful.


When he was invited to facilitate a session in the Unconference and needed a co-facilitator, he asked if I would be interested in the opportunity. I said YES!


Overview

The Global Search Central Virtual Unconference 2022
Search Central Virtual Unconference 2022

Back to the event…


The Google Search Team used the Google Meet breakout room feature for the Unconference.


How the breakout room works is that all participants would meet in a general (main) room hosted by Martin Splitt and Cherry Sireetorn Prommawin, and then be assigned to smaller rooms where they can participate in one session they opted for during registration.


After each session, all participants would then converge again in the main room, where facilitators would present the conclusions from their sessions.


The sessions were grouped into Discussion Slot A (13 sessions) and Slot B (12 sessions).

The schedule for Google Search Central Virtual Unconference
Google Search Central Virtual Unconference 2022 Agenda

Each session had a facilitator and a co-facilitator to guide the discussions and make sure everyone was carried along. The Slot A discussion was scheduled to kick off at 16:15 GMT +1, while Slot B would start at 17:30 GMT +1. Our session B1 falls under the latter.


My role as a co-facilitator in the Virtual Google Unconference


Sessions from the Search Central Unconference are never recorded. I'll explain why in the next section. But this meant getting insights from discussions in each room came down to session notes. As a co-facilitator, this part fell into my role.


The notes would be taken live in pre-assigned Google docs during the session. It is also screen-shared in the live session so that participants can see all the points covered as the discussion progresses. The screen-sharing part raised my anxiety levels.


Don't get me wrong. I'm a writer. This means I can easily pick out takeaways and communicate them clearly, no matter the conversation.


But…


I'm a terrible typist. And the idea of people watching me as I typed made the whole idea scary. But then again, I love a challenge, and instead of fixating on the fear, I focused on finding ways to do a good job.


What I did:

  • Reached out to an amazing SEO on Twitter who was also co-facilitating (not sure if she would like to be mentioned) and asked for her advice.

  • Read up about SEO A/B split testing ideas, which was the topic Luke was facilitating.

  • Got ready an hour before the event. The last thing I needed was a last-minute issue.

  • Attended another session while waiting for ours to start. This helped me understand how everything works. I even introduced myself there, and it wasn't as bad as I thought.

What's more? Luke also made sure to connect with me minutes before the conference to explain again how the session would go and ease my anxiety.


Co-facilitating the session


Now, it's time to spill every tiny detail about how the session went down. But I'd have to kill you first.


Just kidding.


The thing is, I can't share all the details about the session because the Search Central Unconference encourages privacy strongly. And it does this by following the Chatham House Rule.


That's why no session is ever recorded. And also why I can share information about the session in general but not add any identifying information about the participants without their permission.


About the session…


The group A sessions ran a bit late, so ours started later than it should. Luke began the session with a good intro and then questions to encourage participants to engage.


It was much more fun than I anticipated. Our audience was super engaged and shared the results of experiments they had tried. This made taking notes less of an issue because I wrote down so many solid points from the stimulating conversation.


I didn't know much about SEO testing except the few stuff I had read before the session. But the interesting take in the session filled up lots of gaps in my knowledge.


Here are some takeaways:

  • Split tests can be effective when you test on a small sample size rather than the entire website.

  • Run split tests on your high traffic pages rather than those with low traffic to ensure the results you get are valid.

  • SEO split tests work best on sites that have numerous pages and categories. Examples are job boards, real estate sites, and eCommerce websites.

  • Try out different stuff and test everything. You never know what might work. For example, a participant removed meta descriptions, and Google wrote them instead. The result? 7% increase in traffic. Another participant added alt texts to navigations and got over an 11% increase in clicks!

From the takeaways, you can imagine how insightful the session itself was.


Tips for Co-facilitating a Google Unconference Session

If you're co-facilitating a session in the Google Unconference for the first time, here's my advice:

  • Try not to get hung up on making mistakes because you will. There were typos I spotted after we had rounded up the session and closed the document. But that didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.

  • If you aren’t comfortable typing in front of an audience, consider typing in a separate document and then pasting it into the assigned document. This might slow you down, though.

  • The event principles encourage inclusivity. To quote them "whatever happens in the conference is what should happen". So, there's no pressure to turn on your camera or do anything you're uncomfortable with. No video—it's fine.

  • Also, as I mentioned, your identity is safe. What happens in the Unconference stays in the Unconference. No one can quote what you said and add your name to it without your permission. This applies to screenshots from the event as well.

  • Don't be scared to ask for clarification. I missed some results a participant shared and simply asked her through the chat box for the numbers. She sent them. Easy-peasy!

  • Don't overthink anything. Try to relax, have fun, enjoy the stimulating conversation, and meet new people!


In the end, I had a great time. Would I do this again? Definitely, I'd love to! Feel free to shoot me a DM on Twitter if you're looking for a co-facilitator or have an invite to any SEO-themed conferences.


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