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A First Timer's View of SES San Jose

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I attended my first Search Engine Strategies event last week in San Jose, and I must say this conference could not have come at a better time for me. I have been working as an SEO analyst for less than a year. My previous life included being an engineer and project manager for a large consumer products company, and later a web developer with the keen knack for using deeply nested tables to obtain precise page layouts. Oops...

I walked into the conference not knowing quite what to expect. At first blush, it looked very similar to other technical conferences that I had attended in the past, with a mostly techie looking crowd. It sure beats the more sales oriented conferences that I have attended with the heavy dose of smiling-teeth-checkered-sports-coat sales people and the scantily clad models attempting to draw the window shopping attendees into their booths.

My past technical conferences typically had me nodding off half way through many of the presentations, with the occasional gem that combined interesting material and a dynamic speaker. The SES conference was very different. Overall, the quality of the presentations was top-notch. There was maybe only one of the dozen or so sessions that I attended where I was somewhat underwhelmed. The rest ranged from good to excellent, and the quality and knowledge of the presenters was very impressive.

I tried to sit in on a wide variety of sessions to get a broad view of the search industry as a whole. Overall, the sessions seemed to fall into two camps. First were the well established areas of key words, linking strategies, and PPC advertising and bidding. The others seemed to represent the new frontiers of search, including local, images, and video search.

The "Evolved" Side of Search

Coming from a classic bricks-and-mortar marketing company, I found it impressive to see how well the marketing and advertising agencies have integrated themselves into search. For the established search areas, the advertising-based sessions sounded very familiar. I used to attend numerous TV, radio, and print advertising sessions for my first company where the terms of "share of voice," "reach," "ROI," and "conversion" were standard advertising speak. These terms seem to have been seamlessly integrated into the world of search engine marketing.

Pay per click marketing has clearly developed into a well understood and evolved science for choosing keywords and refining bidding techniques for PPC campaigns, and analyzing results. The one major shortcoming at this point seems to be the variability in geo-tracking caused by the need to rely on IP addresses for location.

In the SEO sessions that I attended, I heard lots of discussion about what to do and not to do with web pages to improve traffic. Most presenters' talks revolved around the white hat strategies of creating good content and clean web page design.

What I didn't see were hard results comparing different strategies and the results obtained. It was hard to tell whether these tests just aren't being performed to any degree, or if the data is being held close to the chest by the SEOs doing the studies. I have my suspicions that it is the latter.

Search's Next Frontier

There seemed to be a lot of excitement regarding speculation of what will happen in local, image, and video search, as well as what drives placement. The session on local search in particular I found fascinating. This is clearly an area that is the next web frontier, and opportunities abound for the savvy SEO companies who stay ahead of the curve. They will have the opportunity to make significant improvements to their customer's placement.

I was reminded just today of the opportunity for local search. Our laundry room is temporarily out of commission while we are remodeling, so I needed to find a nearby laundromat. My first Google search gave me local results 20-30 miles from my house, although there are many more close by. It took several different queries to finally get the info that I was looking for. I have no doubts that the search engines will be improving the quality of their local search results as well as changing their placement algorithms frequently over the next few years.

One of the presenters pointed out one of the many shortcomings of local search that is easy to fix and fairly obvious, yet hasn't been done. Why does Google present a map when someone performs a query for "plumber," "gardener," roofers," etc. Nobody drives to these places of business, they all come to you. I have no doubts that sometime in the near future the search engines will be tailoring their local results to the type of business the user is searching for.

The Google Dance was a nice diversion, and a good chance to talk with the Google engineers. The atmosphere was a constant reminder that I was not in the stodgy industry that I came from. The night club party atmosphere far exceeded any from my previous employer, despite their trying just as hard to throw similar events. It was just another indication that Google "gets it."

Overall, I must say that the conference far exceeded my expectations, and I am really looking forward to getting more involved in search over the next year.

Jim Parent is a principal search analyst with Stone Temple Consulting, an SEO consultancy with offices in Boston and California.

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