One of these gatherings this afternoon had me wondering where people placed their priorities when two of those standing there chose which session they would attend by which SEO Rockstar was on the panel or by which SEO celebrity was speaking. "Matt Cutts is on that panel, I'm going to that one!" was the line that got me thinking about this. (Matt seems like a great guy, but why would I attend his session if he's talking about "linking" - really, how much more can be said about it?)
I chose a great session with Shari Thurow and Lance Loveday on "SEO and Usability" and came away with some great insights and valuable case studies to quote to my clients when they insist on elements that look pretty, but suck for SEO value. While it's great to get authoritative answers on things that matter to your business or your SEO passions, I don't recall ever having chosen even one of the three hundred or so conference sessions (over the eight years I've attended SEO shows) with the criteria of celebrity - I choose them based on the topic of discussion.
This habit has left me more than annoyed several times when the title of the session was a bit misleading - but I continue to choose based on the topic, rather than the speakers. I've also missed wonderful sessions because someone wanted to be "creative" rather than descriptive, something I somehow believe wouldn't happen at an SEO conference.
This morning I missed one I would have loved to attend called "Industrial Strength SEO" which was about SEO for large enterprise sites, not power plants and sewage treatment SEO. This is one case where knowing Marshall Simmonds (SEO for New York Times/ Primedia) was a speaker would have been worth knowing as I would have recognized the reason for that silly title. New York SES last year called this session "BIG SEO" which was a bit clearer. Grrrrr. (Yes I could have looked at the show guide book, but I wasn't carrying it - please guys, pretend you're optimizing your conference schedule, will ya?
Another item had me scratching my head as well when I saw that you could purchase a "Networking Only Pass" for $250, which let you into cocktail receptions, parties and other non-conference events. That pass comes with two drink tickets and permission to stand in a room with a few hundred strangers munching pretzels while holding a drink in one hand and business cards in the other. (I wonder if I could "rent" my "All Access" pass to someone for those events, since I always leave? Hmmm.)
I just don't get it, but props to Third Door Media for recognizing that people will pay good money for this. ;-) While there is no doubt that networking can be valuable, I'm a bit confused as to the value of networking with your competitors. Don't get me wrong, please. I think that Rand Fishkin, Danny Sullivan, and Lee Odden are probably all great guys, as a matter of fact, I think, based on things I've read on their blogs (and SEO Podcasts) that I'd probably be honored to call each of them friends - but they surely have plenty of friends already and I just can't imagine wading through the adoring fans to say hi. I probably have more in common with Kim Berg of Cre8pc who said:
"I’m goofy. I’m terrible with names. I’m shy and uncomfortable in crowds until I get a sense of the place."It all comes down to personality I guess. I like it quiet while I'm working, I don't party and I've NEVER approached a speaker after a session unless I had something of value to offer them
I have approached precisely three speakers after conference sessions in eight years of attending - to trade business cards and then I've called each of them afterward on business.
There are those of us who love SEO work and love to discuss it with the odd friend or two willing to hear about the value of robots.txt auto-discovery of xml sitemaps. I am not like Shoemoney, who recently told the world, "I do not like 95% of SEO's" - because I actually do very much like most SEO's, but not because they are famous to a couple of thousand other SEO's. I like SEO's because they are usually very smart and interesting people.
Then there are those who worship at the feet of celebrity.
You have probably guessed that I don't watch the Oscars and can't name more than a dozen or so movie stars, but I still watch movies. I tend to choose those movies I watch based on the genre, good critical reviews or by the subject of a good documentary - NOT the BIG names on the marquee - go figure. Probably why I don't read people magazine or ask SEO Celebrities to pose for a photo with me.
PS: GREAT show Chris and Danny! Though I'm sure you don't know me from Adam, (no not Adam Lasnik - Adam the cliche) if you see this blog post, I want you to know that I chose this show and got more from it than from SES New York last year and won't be going to New York for that show next week. I also attended SMX local and Mobile in Denver and loved that one too. I wish I could attend SMX Seattle in June, but the conference budget is blown for this year. The program gripes are minor and I have nothing but praise for the line-up of speakers and their topics. Damn! Shari, can you teach SMX about conference schedule usability? ;-)
ADDED 3-2-08: After a bit of discussion over at Sphinn about this post, there's one thing I wanted to add to this post on further reflection. I've probably already over-thought this, but had another insight about SEO celebrities and star quality. I will admit that there is one time at conferences that I will attend in large part due to who is speaking, and regardless of the topic.
Keynote presentations are put forward by conference organizers as a high point, emphasizing that everyone should attend by placing it front and center without competing sessions, in the big room, encouraging full attendance.
They've said implicitly, "This is big, with a big name speaker discussing important stuff with no distractions." So I trust that and will attend without questioning, no matter the topic.