The Success of SES Chicago Show

Friday, December 12, 2008
Posted by Jim Hedger @ 12:17 pm

“I read the news today oh boy…”

Actually, I haven’t read the news today. I haven’t wanted to. I don’t have the stomach for the Dow today and having spent a week talking with CEOs, SEOs, Social Marketers and most importantly, CFOs, I don’t have the strength for another download of economic downturn stories. Except for one…

The chill running down my spine is very real and that’s not because I have spent the last week in Chicago attending the final Search Engine Strategies Conference of 2008. Though the temperature was low the caliber of the conference was high. This event was arguably the most interesting and well organized Search Engine Strategies show ever produced but that’s not going to be the story of the show. The predominant story of this show will (unfortunately) be the economy. The chill running down my spine is a shared sensation amongst most of the people I spoke with loosely referred to as “THE FEAR”.

Every conversation began or ended with a discussion about the economy and THE FEAR was felt crawling beneath the surface of almost every interaction. Everyone is concerned and everyone wants to know each others’ coping strategies. Again, the extraordinary efforts put into making this event work will likely receive less recognition than it should as the story will be about how attendance was lower than ever and the absence of certain well known names gave fuel to rumors of doom, gloom and despair.

“Registration numbers are up over last year”, conference chair Stewart Quealy and Search Engine watch publisher Matt McGowan said to me. Though registration numbers might be higher, actual attendance was visibly down as corporate travel bans are taking effect towards the end of a difficult budgetary year. The fee for admission is only half the cost of coming to a major conference. Accommodation, meals, drinks and innumerable incidentals tend to double the amount of real money spent sending delegates to SES. There were a number of companies who simply didn’t make it this year, lending fuel to rumors that there are a lot of companies which totally will not make it through the next year. THE FEAR is real. OK. that’s it for the economic stuff.

Be that as it may, the strength and brilliance of the search engine marketing has never been more apparent than it was in Chicago earlier this week. With extraordinary keynote speakers, great information and education sessions and the collective wisdom of over 80 industry thought-leaders, SES Chicago was enormously well done.

The conference opened with a killer keynote speech delivered by one of the world’s undisputed Intellectual Property experts, Professor Lawrence Lessig. Speaking on the topic of “IP Extremism”, Dr. Lessig outlined the evolution of copyright and IP law and offered a number of ideas on how it should evolve to meet the challenges of living in a digital society.
(please click here for WebmasterRadio.FM’s podcast of Dr. Lessig’s speech. )

Metamend was represented on the first day of sessions by myself in an hour long speech regarding Network Neutrality. I have spent a lot of time studying and covering the concepts associated with Net Neutrality because I strongly believe the outcome of that debate will set the future of the digital marketing environment we work in and the industry we have worked so hard to build. From where I stand right now, the outlook is fairly good, especially with the positions stated by the incoming U.S. administration. Nevertheless, as a unified digital marketing industry we need to continue to pressure our elected representatives and the Internet service provider community to retain and strengthen the traditions associated with Net Neutrality.

Unity within the community was the second most important topic at SES Chicago and I am pleased to announce the final MAJOR rift within the SEO/SEM community was healed at the conference. As Metamend Blog readers and our clients are aware, we are “Best of Breed”, best practices focused digital marketing agency. That means we follow the best practice rules as outlined by the search engines and by thought leaders (like ourselves) within the search marketing community. This is important to us as an agency because it guarantees our clients will not run afoul of industry or search engine standards. The problem is, there is no set-in-stone rules to follow other than those posted by the engines themselves. That’s why Metamend follows what are called the Google Guidelines as closely as we can.

The rift in the community stemmed from interpretation of those guidelines with SEMs who stray from them being called “black-hats” and SEM’s who follow them being labeled, “white-hat”. Having never been fully comfortable with such stark terminology, we use the phrases best practices and best of breed. At SES Chicago, many of the most outspoken and often virulent voices in that debate met, talked rationally, and decided their opinions were actually much closer than they either realized or would previously admit. This might come as a shock to old-time SEOs but Doug Heil, Todd Friesen and Dave Naylor all got along quite well. I think the path is now clear for the digital marketing community to begin articulating a TRUE set of standards we can present as an industry baseline to mainstream advertisers and clients. As the influence of digital marketing grows, I believe such a baseline will be critically important. Until this week however, I did not think the SEO/SEM industry was mature enough to get there. Now I do and I feel that is a great accomplishment.

The third most important topic covered at SES Chicago was the need for SEO/SEM companies to up their game with analytic measurement of digital marketing success. General search engine ranking reporting is over because there is not such thing as “general” search engine rankings at Google any more. Google is now committed to delivering highly personalized results to every one of its users. In order to prove our worth to clients, SEOs and SEMs need to provide clear measurements of increased traffic and ROI. Though Metamend has been ahead of this curve in out use of analytic data to create enormously detaile reports for our clients, we picked up a few new tips and ideas on important reporting metrics at the conference. That said, I think Metamend is far ahead of the vast majority of digital marketing shops when it comes to using analytic data to improve the results we bring clients and the information we share with them.

A review of SES Chicago would not be complete without complimenting and thanking the organizers of the show from Incisive Media. Stewart Quealy, Matt McGowan and Marylin Crafts organized and marshaled an excellent line-up of speakers. The “face” of SES Conferences, Kevin Ryan gave an incredibly strong performance and did great interviews with speakers after each keynote session. The stuff attendees and delegates saw up front was excellent.

One of the most outstanding facets of this show was the stuff attendees and delegates don’t actually see being organized but effects all of us in profound ways. The behind the scenes organization and the actual set-up of the event were amazing. Incisive Media Director of Operations, Michele McDermott did an incredible job with the logistics of an incredibly complicated event. Folks like her rarely get the credit they deserve and rarely receive the thanks they should get. On behalf of the community, thanks Michele… (for instance… NO MORE BOX LUNCHES!)

SES Chicago 2008 was a good show. The line-up was excellent and the organizers made attending and doing our jobs easy. The next major Search Engine Strategies event is in London in early February. The next North American SES show is in New York in late March. If you happen to be able to attend either, it is well worth the price of admission and travel.

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for everything Jim! You forgot to mention the fact that the success of SES is also very much tied in with the SEM/SEO community (of which you are a big part)… I want to take this moment to thank each and every speaker, attendee, sponsor and exhibitor for their contribution as well – it takes all of us to make these type of shows happen over and over again and we here at SES know that and appreciate all the help.

    Until London and NY… Happy Holidays – Matt

    Comment by matt mcgowan — Monday, December 15, 2008 @ 7:54 am

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