As I was leaving SES New York 2007, I found myself next to Shari Thurow from Grantastic Designs in the taxi line leaving the Hilton. Knowing that Shari is a veteran of the industry, I figured I might get a few tips from her, so I offered to share a cab with her to the airport. I mentioned to Shari this is my seventeenth consecutive U.S. SES conference.
Like others, she asked me if I really learn anything by returning to the same conference three times a year. I always respond 'yes' to this question, but we were still 20 minutes from the airport, so I felt obligated to back up my answer with a few concrete examples.
Although I enjoy the sessions – even ones I have attended before – much of the value of SES comes from outside the sessions. For example, at SES Dallas 2000, the small group of SES attendees were sitting at the lobby bar late one evening. I was having a conversation with a fellow SEO, who was explaining how banner ads should be like amoeba – yes, amoeba. Although at the time, his argument sounded a little "under the influence," it has stuck with me ever since.
His point was that an amoeba is constantly changing, and to maximize the effectiveness of your banners ads, they should be constantly changing as well, continuously varying possibilities for better results. This concept applies to a PPC campaign as well. Google AdWords makes it extremely easy to split-test your ads. You are doing yourself a huge disservice if you are not constantly testing to find a better performing ad.
In addition to the 90 characters of real estate you have to work with in the ad itself, landing pages should also be constantly varied and tested. Even the display URL of the ad can greatly affect click-through rates. Because of that conversation that night at SES, I always feel obligated to be testing at least 2 different sets of ad copy for any given campaign.
Tracking the Winds of Change
Furthermore, SES gives you a great gauge of the current buzz in the industry, whether it's "local," "social media," or "duplicate content." After hearing things repeated in different sessions and then discussed at the networking lunches and receptions, you get in touch with what direction the industry is heading. You won't get that kind of knowledge from reading articles online.
For many people SES offers the rare opportunity to interact with other SEOs. Everyone at SES has a different specialty and a different story to tell, so I usually learn something from everyone I speak with – regardless of their level of knowledge or experience. I learn new info about how they acquire links, how they do their keyphrase research and what they think Google is favoring this month.
Even in sessions I have attended before, I'm constantly taking notes on how I might apply the speaker's strategies to my sites. Being in an "all SEM" environment for three days always forces me to brainstorm new ways to market my clients' sites.
Getting direct, informal access to search engine reps can often be worth the price of admission. At SES, you learn the best ways to promote your client's Web site. Just as importantly, at SES, you will also learn what NOT do from all the black hat spammer war stories.
I was once sitting in a session, and the guy next to me honestly did not realize that his techniques could easily get his sites blacklisted. He turned to me at the end of the session and confessed, "I didn't know I was a spammer."
I have also found a great sounding-board in the associates I have met at SES. Like most SEOs, I work at a small agency. So I reach out on a daily basis to SES-conference friends for advice, opinions and, sometimes, just reassurance.
By the end of SES, I'm always excited to get back to work and try all the new ideas I have conjured up during the week. New ideas from speakers and fellow attendees, tips on what not to do, new contacts (SEOs as well as search engine reps), inspiration from immersion – the list goes on.
And don't forget to offer to share a ride to the airport with an industry veteran.
Craig Paddock is president of Plaza Digital, a Kansas City-based search marketing firm. He's also been referred to as a "Search Engine Groupie" for his regular attendance at search conferences.
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