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This was a very different kind of SEM/SEO conference. It was the largest conference SEM/SEO industry has ever put together. From corporate marketing crowd to the mom & pop seo's, there was a diversification present we have not seen before.
In the past, these conferences were occasions for SEO's came to pay homage to the search engines - the SEO's were the side show. It was as if we all came to say we were sorry for riding the search engine gravy train and vowed to give up spam.
This time it was the search engines that were the side show. Just walking down the isles from booth to booth, it was real clear people came to talk to those in marketing services. Companies such as Trellian, PositionTech, and GoToast had busy booths from the start to finish.
This focus on the service providers and seo's was never more apparent than when we went to lunch with a search engine on Tuesday. We didn't spend the hour quizzing them on their products, they were more interested in quizzing us.
SEO conferences are generally a male bonding ritual with beer flowing freely and even the occasional poker game. This time there were dozens upon dozens of women present. The class and caliber of the women present had the guys all talking about it. Jessie Stricchiola of Alchemist Media said, "I looked out into the audience once and it was mostly women. It wasn't just the numbers either, they were asking informed questions".
Freebies: The quality of booth giveaways this year was outstanding. Everyone was remarking about how good the giveaways were. While various trinkets are the norm at these things, several vendors were dishing out fairly expensive items for trade show exhibitors.
After hours: Overture, Fast, and GoToast all held quality mixers. Overture, with it's pregame warmup email before the conference was the largest. Fast had a great turn out at Pravda while giving away dinners and dvd players. GoToast also had a large crowd at a local bar.
Hotel: The hotel conference center and main ball room were a big hit - the rooms were not. "I kept expecting Jack Nicholson to come walking down the hall with an axe like in The Shining." (-John Herd)
Top buzzwords: Space and Organic. From marketing materials to presentations, Organic was everywhere at the conference. (Organic was coined just last fall by our own WebGuerrilla). Although Space has been used to describe various markets since the 60's, it's usage at the conference was numbing. Hardly a single presentation I heard did not include "space" in some reference to SEM/SEO.
VC's. Who would have guessed there would be venture capitalists wandering around both looking for stock tips, and flashing cash at a show like this? Who would have further guessed they wanted to talk with WebmasterWorld - nuff said for now.
Hello World: Quietly gaining strength over the last few months, multi media engine Singingfish made a big splash at the conference.
Mad Props: While speaking of some site during his presentation, Tim Mayer of Fast referred to it as, "The WebmasterWorld of it's space".
The Buzz: Many insist there is yet a bigger deal being worked on that makes the recent acquisitions look small. Yahoo, Overture, and Microsoft continue to be the names mentioned. I think it's pretty clear there is something in the works there.
Best War Story: Hands down, Mike Grehan. While racing to projectile vomit up some bad lobster, Mike tripped and hit his head. He spent the next day in the hospital recovering from a concusion. Hope you are back in game shape soon Mike.
Cheap Stunts: Every conference has one or two college prank stories - I was responsible for this years. Every morning I would switch the four Yahoo booth computers to either WebmasterWorld or AskJeeves as the home page. The most humorus thing about it? They had to call the tech guy to fix it. (sorry Yahoo - lol). Someone got the last laugh though, because as I opened my laptop for last time before leaving, the homepage was cnet.
All-in-all, a fantastic three days.
From top down: Danny Sullivan, Position Tech Crew (Jeremy, Chris, David Turner), Dave Carlson of GoToast, Google rep Barry Schnitt, Jonathan Glick of Altavista, and the Yahoo Reps.
In short, my main complaint is this: While marketers in general, and important marketers (i.e. Fortune 1000 marketers) in particular are becoming increasingly aware of the marketing relevance of SEM, the few industry events out there seem not to care much at all about marketing, and haven't changed a bit in the last three years.
If I'm not incorrect, I would say that this was the whole point of Fred's keynote.
I agree there is a lot of "how to" type information, but what would make it appealing to the "concerns of real marketers"?
Carat was there presenting [big media], there was a lot of how-to, high level increasing conversion rates talk, shopping search reps, trusted feed programs. When companies like Mercedes are spending gobs of cash on SEO/M it seems like its gone fairly mainsteam and been adopted by some "real marketers".
How many copywriters were there? I hear quite a bit of lip service paid to increasing conversions, increasing sales, development etc. Then the web devs get together with the seos and usability people and not a soul asks a copywriter to sit in...
Many web devs are asked to "plug these brochures in" and the copy is considered finished.
I didn't go to this one and it's not likely that I'll go to any other "cons" other than Pubcon as the ones I attended in the past were all content free.
How well known it may be...is only in the minds of people 'in the know'.
As for Boston, I wasn't there, but your reference to 'real marketers' makes me wonder, just who are you referring to, specifically?
The Home Depot, perhaps? They've used SEO before.
Lowe's - another fortune 100 company - that has also used SEO.
Let's see, Dun and Bradstreet -> yep.
Kraft Foods -> yep.
Do I need to go on, or are these companies not on the list you are referring to?
Wait, they are! So, what are we missing here...? Please, I'm sure everybody is interested.
With that said, Bryan from FutureNow is a regular and <disclosure>used to work with em'</disclosure> the stuff they do does work and the presentation is pretty good.
Usborne is a great online copywriter IMO and he's a fixture there but seems to give a presentation that is almost if not identical time after time.
I'd think "real marketers" would be concerned with those issues, but even agency folks I work with really haven't got a clue about how to do it or what changes really make a difference or even how to setup testing, aside from off the cuff "strategy" Trust Me, I'm an Expert" type stuff.
Many of the things Usborne touched on in Networds had the copywriters saying, "well, duh" but unfortunately, the devs haven't read the book. ;) Seems they're all reading the DW MX bible and the Path to Perl.
>>level of detail
That's a huge part of it. If the numbers are okay why bother with maximizing ROI? At least that's what many of the webmasters seem to practice while constantly courting people that preach about increasing conversion rates.
The last great online "campaign" I remember was "All Your Base Are Belong To Us". Not exactly "Got Milk"? but at least it was memorable.
Also, as pointed out, there was (and have been at other SES shows) a lot of large brands attending as well as major media agencies and advertising agencies.
Personally, I have seen a huge increase in work from large (traditional off-line) brands and agencies - all very professional marketers, in the last 6-12 month so things are most definately going in the right direction.
There is allways room for improvements on any conference, but I don't think SES will, or should, ever be "everything for everyone" - thats why we have different conferences :)
If the numbers are okay why bother with maximizing ROI?
Exactly, if it works and the client seems to make some money and we still get paid, who cares, even though we might be able to double their ROI over time, why bother?
It's cool to push the boundaries, but in the agency world more often than not, its not easy or immediate so it doesn't get done.
but it would be soooooo cool to push the boundaries and see what could really be accomplished
Most people actually ask for more "how to" in evaluations".
People love, absolutely love how to's because they can take something home and say let's do this, now. They can sometimes instantly go home and make an improvement. It's amazing how simple some of those how to's can be to get a phenomenal response. When we give those out in presenttions or a handout it can make all the difference in the world and really cement that this is a learning conference, not just something to go to and listen to a bunch of agencies try to sell me stuff I don't understand.
Hmm, nail three more phrases, or nudge the conversion rate up by one percent site wide?
The education process is beginning but copywriters need to be in the development process for websites. Leaving the copy up to an afterthought is bad business.
I am hired to speak and tell all I know. I don't keep any secrets but try to give people everything I know about my subjects (giving the limited time, though). I know this also goes for the majority of the other speakers :)
I am not hired to promote whatever business I represent. I am there to tech people and to give them something to bring home - someting that can justify the time and money people spend on such a conference.
However, some will allways find the sessions to "easy" and some will find them too advanced. It can be realy difficult to find the right level. I love the feedback we get - here, at the shows and in evaluations. This helps me improve my presentations and adjust for the level people want.
Having said that, things can always improve :)
Its easy to go to a conference and listen to speakers, but its a whole different ballgame to go back and follow through on what one learns. I suspect most of the time the actual implementers, webmasters, coptwriters, etc.. are not the ones that get to go so that lowers the competitive threat even further.
Occasionally you can pick up a tidbit in a seminar that opens up a fruitful new direction. For instance, in the B2B session there was an excellent observation about the difference between communicating with a decision MAKER and communicating with a decision INFLUENCER.
This brought me to a new clarity in my B2B work and you can bet I'll be using that "secret". The odd thing is, I used to write technical marketing copy for Compaq and we routinely made exactly that discrimination. But for some reason, I never exported it to the creation of B2B web copy
So it's true, for the most part you can publish your secrets in 24 point bold text and people will ignore them. Nick U is probably correct in repeating the same message over and over. Each time we hear it, we retain just a bit more.
To reiterate my position, perhaps I should put it this way: I would go so far as to say that anyone can optimize a web site and achieve rankings. And I will also venture to state that anyone who puts in a few months of solid work in learning the proper tactics, can quite predictably achieve results that match up to the results of the supposed best optimization professionals in the world (Brett, Mikkel, who have you).
Therefore, optimization services, as they are on their own, are a commodity. Understanding their application to marketing; this is where value remains to be created.
Nearly everything discussed at SES Boston had to do with tactics, and virtually nothing new was presented with regards to marketing.
"Serious marketers" as I have referred to them are marketers first and foremost. Their objectives are business objectives whose results are measured in terms of business metrics. An event such as SES Boston, where discussion centered around tactical implementations whose success or failure is measurable in terms of, at best, level two or three busines metrics (such as cost-per-order), but mostly in terms of technical metrics (such as rankings on a given keyword), does little to inform serious marketers of anything that is within the realm of marketing, proper.
It is my thinking that as long as this industry continues to talk about about tactics and not about marketing, it will not live up to its potential.
To Mikkel's implied point: Does this industry really need a tactics-centric event? Perhaps. But it far more needs an event which talks about optimization as a means of marketing.
I believe we can compare marketing people in relation to business strategists as a whole in the same way we liken, in the medical profession, the internist/diagnostician to medical general practice - it's a field of specialists whose area of practice is more defined and who know better, more so than with the scope of generalists, to treat a specific condition with general medical means.
The seasoned diagnotician/internist knows when to call in a more refined specialist to deal with a specific medical condition to meet the more refined needs of the patient - as in the case of when an internist, the more seriously qualified in comparison with the general medicine practitioner, knows full well that when a patient has a carotid artery problem, sending them to a vascular surgeon is the most medically sound and effective course of action to take for the best and most specifically targeted diagnosis and treatment for the patient's condition.
Allegorically, speaking in terms of individuals rather than of corporate teams, business people are the general practitioners, marketing people are the internists/diagnosticians as a higher level and more specifically targeted sub-specialty, and narrowed to specialized specifics even further than those are SEOs, with a narrowed and highly refined focus to their practices, strategies and research.
That's not to say by any means that all can't work in concert as a team, but it's just common horse sense to recognize what the boundaries of focus are, whatever the situation. If someone needs a vascular or thoracic surgeon they don't go to the neighborhood General Practitioner who treats their sore throat, or even a general surgeon - they go to a specialist.
If I want broad principles of internet marketing with expertise, Ralph Wilson will do just fine. If I want SEO expertise I'll go to Danny Sullivan or Brett Tabke.
Sure, the industry is evolving, becoming more inclusive and broader in scope - we've had that discussion here before, as far back as around a year and a half ago or more. But when we need narrowly defined specifics, even within a broader framework, we need to know where to go for specialized expertise and treatment.
Personally, I fully intend to do my best to attend SES in San Francisco this coming summer. And I don't expect or want generalized "Internet Marketing," I specifically want exactly what the name itself implies - Search Engine Strategies.
I'm not pulling this out of thin air. I work with three highly qualified, degreed marketing women, each with years of experience, who weren't able do diddly-squat for business that came in through search engine traffic until they broadened their efforts to include SEO on their team.
In fact, my most successful clients invite me into their marketing "inner sanctum" all the time - and I sometimes contribute a big piece of their direction. It was fascinating to me to see that even a BIG computer manufacturer could have a garbled idea of how to address their various market segments.
I do agree that this is more of a collaboration between specialists than a straight evolution of SEO into something else. However, SEO done robotically, that is, without marketing savvy, can deliver a whole mess of the wrong kind of traffic. We need to grok the marketing disciplines to do our jobs well.
Back to Boston - one of the best sessions for me was the B2B workshop. SEO has mostly been involved with B2C and the short sales cycle/immediate purchase. The insights offered in Boston really helped me to better focus my efforts for my B2C clients and their longer sales cycles. Search engines are still important when you're selling a million dollar enterprise solution over a 10 month sales cycle, but the marketing end can be very different.
The SES conference in Boston put the SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization) on the agenda because it (and Danny) understand that the industry is maturing but it needs some help, consistency and force to help the growth.
If you want to influence the SEM agenda - whether it be at the conferences or in the industry more generally - then get involved. Find out more and how to join the discussion group at [sempo.org...] .
<disclaimer>I am the president of SEMPO and a member of the founding council of the organization - along with Noel McMichael of Marketleap, Kevin Lee of Did-it, Danny Sullivan of search engine watch, Chris Churchill of NetMechanic and Jessie of Alchemist Media</disclaimer>