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Search Engine Strategies Toronto Was ... Different

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In a word, SES Toronto was "different." This year's conference chairman was different. The keynote speaker was different. More than 70 percent of the 27 sessions were different. And more than 70 percent of the 67 speakers at this year's event were different, too.

For the times they are a-changin'.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, June 12-13, 2007, in Toronto, Canada.

As I mentioned back in March, the search engine industry is heading off "to destinations at the edge of the known world where the phrase, "Here be dragons," still appears in the unexplored areas of old maps."

So, watching Chris Sherman, one of the world's leading search authorities, pass the torch for organizing Search Engine Strategies Toronto to Andrew Goodman, the new conference chairman, was just another sign that this industry is reinventing itself and SES Toronto 2007 needs to continue reinventing itself to keep pace with the latest developments.

There were three signs in Toronto that the order is rapidly fadin'.

The first was Wednesday morning's keynote presentation by bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change, Seth Godin. He was founder and CEO of Yoyodyne, the industry's leading interactive direct marketing company, which Yahoo acquired in late 1998.

In his spare time, Godin is the founder and original squid at Squidoo, "the world's most popular site for people who want to build a page about their passions." But, he's better known as the author of seven books that have been bestsellers around the world and changed the way people think about marketing, change and work.

Among Godin's best known titles are Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, and The Big Red Fez. His latest work, The Dip, is a "little book about quitting." It has been called "a mind grenade" that tells you the old saying is wrong – winners do quit, and quitters do win.

During his keynote presentation, Godin didn't discuss Squidoo's search strategy or subtly shill his books. Instead, he riffed for 45 minutes on the theme, "Ideas that spread, win."

Godin asked, "Do we need to spread ideas?" He answered his rhetorical question by saying it helps if you "make something worth talking about" and then "sell to people who are listening."

Or, as he said near the end of his remarks, "Be remarkable. Tell a story to your sneezers. They spread the word. Get permission."

Now, Godin's message wouldn't seem out of place at a social media conference. But, it clearly resonated at Search Engine Strategies Toronto, too. In fact, about 500 of the 1,000 conference attendees (including me) lined up to ask Godin to autograph their complimentary copies of The Dip before and after his keynote.

For the times they are a-changin'.

The second sign at SES Toronto that the old road is rapidly agin' could be seen in the new titles of the tracks and many of the sessions. The "fundamentals track" at last year's conference was renamed the "get me up to speed" track. The "advanced" track was renamed "on the cutting edge." And the "issues & tactics" track was replaced by a new track entitled "let's make some money."

Many of the new sessions had titles like:

  • Linkbaiting & Widgets: Viral Bag o' Tricks
  • The Worst SEO Don'ts, Myths, and Scams
  • What's Your Purple Cow Quotient? Differentiation & Positioning Workshop
  • Is Content King? Is SEO "BS"? White Hat Hotseat
  • Are You Findable? Relevancy and the "Big Picture"
  • Get Dugg! And Other Social Media Targeting Tips
  • I Want More! Buying Contextual Advertising

Even the descriptions of conference sessions read more like blog posts and less like meta description tags. Here's one for the What's Your Purple Cow Quotient? Differentiation and Positioning Workshop:

Spending time and money on marketing a me-too concept can be self-defeating. Inspired by Seth Godin's book Purple Cow (and OK, Ries and Trout, and their own experiences creating products, services, and interfaces that stand out from the crowd), our panelists coach participants (that's you!) as to how they might position their offerings, ads, and sites to stand out from the crowd, and hopefully to become "top of mind" in their field. This workshop is about ideas and breaking out of your usual rut. "Think different!"

For the times they are a-changin'.

The third sign that the wheel's still in spin and there's no tellin' who that it's namin' was Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's increased presence at Search Engine Strategies Toronto.

There were six "Microsofties" speaking at this year's conference: Mel Carson, James Colborn, Jason Dailey, Ken Headrick, Michelle Pruitt, and Farhan Thawar. There were five "Googlers" speaking: Nick Fox, Shuman Ghosemajumder, Adam Lasnik, Tom Leung, and Eric Morris. And there were four "Yahoos" speaking: Martin Byrne, Hunter Madsen, Andy Renieris, and Iain Wilson.

A quick check of last year's conference handbook uncovered the fact that only Kaushal Kurapati from Ask Jeeves (before the algorithm killed Jeeves), and Renieris from Yahoo spoke at the 2006 conference.

So, why did it seem like there were more speakers from search engines checking into SES Toronto this year than there are Hollywood celebrities checking into rehab these days?

The recent launches of Panama, Yahoo's new advertising platform, and Microsoft adCenter, which is now live in Canada, provide a reasonable explanation. The search engine industry is at an inflection point, with Google trying to maintain its market leadership, while Yahoo and Microsoft are trying to change the current dynamic.

But, wanting to speak and getting to speak are two different things.

So, I'm pretty sure there's another explanation. A growing percentage of the people who attend Search Engine Strategies are in-house marketers, who want to hear – directly – what the people from Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have to say.

While SES conference attendees also want to hear what SEO experts and search engine marketing specialists have to say about how this industry has reinvented itself yet again, it's clear the mix of conference speakers is going to be different in the future than it's been in the past.

For the times they are a-changin'.

Greg Jarboe is the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, a search engine optimization firm and public relations agency. He is also the news search, blog search and PR correspondent for the Search Engine Watch Blog.

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