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Thursday, February 28, 2008

SMX West Day 3: "Matt & Danny and Rand! Oh My!"

I'm just back from three days at SMX West in Santa Clara with an observation which has me puzzled, but one that comes down to my own quirk of valuing SEO topics over "SEO personalities." Over those three days, I overheard several groups of colleagues who had gathered around the large conference schedule boards to choose their next sessions.

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.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

SMX West: Dangerous Place for Rand Fishkin

Mike McDonald is mistaken for SEO Superstar Rand Fishkin, taken hostage and beaten for SEO "insider" information. When the bad guys realize it's not Fishkin, they release McDonald to have a friendly beer and hear him tell web nerd jokes. The closing graphic says, "Getting answers shouldn't be this hard ... SMX West ... Get all the coverage at WebProNews."

Creativity runs high at WPN and serves as great link bait and wonderful content for blogs that never get tired of discussing exactly the minutia that McDonald jokes about in the end.

Unfortunately, now we're going to be flooded with videos from others trying to top this great one from the WebProNews team. I'll wager Barry Schwartz makes a list of all the competing SEO video linkbait for SERoundtable before long and we'll hear at SES San Jose this summer about the link counts and ranking increases of the top seo video link bait.

Looking forward to the conference myself - maybe if I use a little smarter kidnappers next time, they'll actually get Fishkin, damnit!

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Monday, October 01, 2007

SMX Local & Mobile Search Conference, Denver Day 1

At the end of Day One of SMX Local & Mobile Search marketing conference at the Denver Hyatt, I'm tired of the emphasis on the "Local Search" aspect and want to hear more on the "Mobile Search" half of that equation. Mobile comes at the second half of the title, it is to be discussed on the second day of this two day conference. Very little of "Local Search" (at least material which hasn't been known pretty widely for a few years), has been detailed here.

All the standard Local Search SEO rules -

  1. Putting the street address of a local business into the page (in text) a couple of times
  2. Submitting to local search portals at each of the top engines
  3. Using standard SEO techniques
  4. Submitting to localized portals, niche local directories, Acxiom, InfoSpace
  5. Including the "hcard" elements into page code...
were discussed in those first day sessions that I was able to attend.

Nobody has so far mentioned specific mobile devices even though there are probably more Apple iPhones carried by audience members than you might be able to find in any other conference. Nobody but keynote speaker Michael T. Jones, Chief Technologist, Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Local Search, who displayed his own iPhone to audience members. While he stopped short of discussing specifics of that device, he did say that the iPhone changes the game - then emphasized that Google knows nothing of making handsets - twice for emphasis.

Jones is another Googler I've now heard speak that leaves me thinking, "Wow, some smart people are working on some cool things at that place!" He's clearly thought long and hard about every aspect of Local and Mobile Search and made for a great keynoter for SMX Local & Mobile.

Jones repeated the Google Mission statement and inserted "Geographically" into "organize the world's information..." and though he didn't say it out loud, obviously inserts "via mobile phones" right after "universally accessible."

I was encouraged that this would be a great conference after hearing the Jones keynote, but I have to say that, so far, not much new is being discussed.

At the "Introducing the Local Search Engines" session, we heard the 5 W's of Local Search - with little "Advanced" material - although, thankfully, little beginner rehash.

At the SEO Best Practices for Local Search session, we heard a bit more detail and not a lot of new insight.

At the "Community Driven Local Search" session, we heard a lot about why user generated content or UGC (reviews), is the suggested silver bullet of local. One dissenting voice on that panel was Paul Ryan of Done Right, who was last to speak and opened with "Everything you just heard is a load of CRAP!" (I disagree, but it was entertaining.)

Ryan advocates professional content, vetting of members and, guarantees of performance - and claims that all UGC is suspect. That may be true to some degree in some places, but when you are talking SEO, UGC is golden for traffic generation and search visibility. Most members of the panel agreed with different aspects of the messiness of user reviews and the difficulty of controlling the monster once negative UGC grows big enough to overtake reputation management efforts.

At the final session of the day on the Industry Issues Track, "Local Search Case Studies" confirmed that yes, local search is effective, economical and valuable to both branding and conversion efforts.

Agreed, local search marketing works, you should do it.

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering ocassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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