Search Engine Strategies is Alive and Well

Monday, December 10, 2007
Posted by Jim Hedger @ 10:30 am

One always worries when the tradeshow floor appears smaller.

Have you ever wondered how much money it takes to throw a large convention like Search Engine Strategies or WebmasterWorld’s PubCon?

While the actual cost for both events are closely guarded business secrets, experienced observers have come up with estimates ranging from, “… more than you’ll ever earn” to “… a hell of a lot”. Either way, staging these conventions can run into a seven figure spend as there are always hundreds of major and minor details demanding the kind of attention that can only be lavished with cash.

The next question is obvious. How does the organization throwing such an event recoup its costs or make enough of a profit to make the endeavour worth the effort?

When dealing with enormous outlays of cash, it is important to have an assured base of income. That’s where the tradeshow part of industry conventions comes into play. The majority of the money comes from the rental of space on the tradeshow floor by vendors and sponsorships paid by advertisers. That’s why one always worries when the tradeshow floor space appears slightly smaller. Fewer vendors means lower income and a lower income means a tighter bottom line.

The second largest collective contribution to the coffers of conference organizers comes from the fees attendees pay for the privilege of being at the show. There is a lot to learn and even more to experience at these events making the approximately $2000 it costs to enter worth virtually every penny to the intellectually industrious. With WebmasterWorld’s PubCon running concurrently in Las Vegas, attendance was expected to be down significantly as SEOs and SEMs had to choose between events. As expected, many of the best known names in the business chose the relative warmth of Nevada over the much colder climate of Chicago.

There are usually two or more important conferences relating to search and Internet marketing every month. Add the exhaustion of an expanding number of MUST-ATTEND conferences each year to the divided loyalties of the search marketing crowd and you have a recipe for contraction in the convention and conference circuit.

An examination of last year’s vendor list to this year’s shows a slightly smaller number of booths sold. Also, one of the premium sponsors of any search show, Yahoo was nowhere to be found. Knowing all this, I walked into last week’s Chicago Search Engine Strategies Conference with both eyes looking for examples of cut backs, cost savings and lowered expectations.

As I was happy to find out, the only lowered expectations where those shared by myself and a few of my more cynical colleagues who were also wearing white press badges. Wearing our attitudes on our sleeves somehow makes the sometimes sleazy process of search sector journalism a bit easier to practice. (So do copious numbers of drinks but we’ll think about that taxing luxury later.)

Contrary to rumours that have been circulating throughout the sector, the Search Engine Strategies conferences are alive and well. Many had figured SES would eventually fold because of the development of competing conferences organized by SES founder Danny Sullivan and WebmasterWorld forum owner Brett Tabke. The obituaries were all but written for SES, the most venerable of search marketing shows. Those obits will have to be trashed or re-written to reflect the growth, renewal and refocus of SES. Far from being a last-stand on the bastion of futility, the Chicago Search Engine Strategies felt more like a coming of age.

There is no doubt that in the hands of Kevin Ryan and his newly minted SES Advisory panel, the global series of shows is changing. The package might look the same but the layout, scheduling and content is remarkably different from previous years. Under his watch, Kevin and crew haven’t just tinkered with the format and speakers. They have built a more professional, corporate focused conference than seen in previous years.

Production values appeared to be slightly higher at this show than previous ones in order to provide a better experience for both audience and speakers. While there were a few technical rough spots in Chicago (as witnessed during David Isenberg’s keynote), the intent was obviously to present a better product. Having Seth Godin deliver the main keynote (hawking a brand new book) was a particularly exciting and enlightening move.

The number of SES events is going to remain relatively the same but the timing and length of each show has been altered to better fit the needs and market-size of each venue. There will be five “flagship” shows held each year in London, New York, Toronto, San Jose and Chicago. In between, a number of smaller but more tightly focused shows will be held in Paris, Hamburg, Tokyo, Milan, Seattle, and in China. Also, there will be a SES component running in conjunction with other shows as happened at London’s Affiliates4U show earlier this year.

By refocusing on the corporate market, SES is trying to redefine itself against its two major competitors, both of which appear more geared towards practitioners than corporate clients. How that focus will play out in the coming months is a story only time can tell but looking forward to a busy 2008, the Search Engine Strategies Conferences look to be on a set of healthy tracks.

1 Comment »

  1. Jim – thanks for the post and it was fantastic to see you last week. We have put a lot of hard work into developing the SES Conf & Expo Series into what you experienced in Chicago and we are glad you enjoyed it. Look for more changes in 2008 as we continue to listen to our customers and deliver the products they are looking for starting in Paris, London, San Francisco (TBA this week) and New York all in Q1 – not to mention to the massive number of Search Marketing experts we are launching new columns with on – Matt

    Comment by Matt McGowan — Tuesday, December 11, 2007 @ 10:52 am

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