The Gentrification of the Search Industry

The old neighborhood is changing. Gentrification has hit the search engine industry, where the old neighborhoods populated by working-class search marketers are now being populated by new groups from other areas, and many of the things common in the daily life of a search marketer three years ago are no longer relevant to industry newcomers.

A look at the conference handbooks for the Search Engine Strategies events in New York from 2004 and 2007 shows that this is taking place in at least four different ways. And by attending the show earlier this month, I experienced a fifth example that illustrates this change.

First, take a look at the table of contents in the conference handbooks for SES NY. In 2004, there were 55 sessions. In 2007, there were 73 sessions, almost 33-percent more.

But, if you look more closely at the session titles, you’ll discover that only 13 of the 55 conference sessions held in 2004 were still being held in 2007. And four of these were site clinics and one was the Organic Listings Forum. Of the remaining eight sessions, six were in the fundamentals track. So, only two advanced sessions, Converting Visitors into Buyers and Meet the Crawlers, were still being held three years later.

Looking at the changing session titles for Search Engine Strategies New York, you can get an idea of the velocity of change in the search engine industry. More than 80 percent of what we learned in 2004 is no longer being taught in 2007. Or, to look at this through the other end of the telescope, less than 20 percent of what you need to know today is something that you could have learned three years ago.

Second, take a look at the speaker biographies at the back of the conference handbooks for SES NY. In 2004, there were 109 speakers. In 2007, there were 145, over 33 percent more.

But, if you look more closely at the biographies, you’ll discover that only 39 of the 109 speakers at the 2004 event were still speaking at the one held in 2007. And one of these was Danny Sullivan, the conference chair of Search Engine Strategies New York 2007, who will no longer be programming the event next year.

I should disclose that I’m one of these 39 speakers. And, gentrification seems too gentle a term for the rapid turnover in panelists. As Richard Burton (as Flight Officer David Campbell) said in the 1962 film, The Longest Day, “The thing that’s always worried me about being one of the few is the way we keep on getting fewer.”

Third, take a look at the list of sponsors and exhibitors for SES NY. In 2004, there were 57. In 2007, there were 141, 147 percent more.

But, if you look more closely at list of exhibitors, you’ll discover that only 28 of 57 who exhibited in 2004 were still exhibiting in 2007. And three of these had changed their names from GO TOAST to Atlas, from Inceptor to Idearc Media, and from FindWhat to MIVA.

Imagine if the stores in your neighborhood turned over as rapidly as the exhibitors on the show floor. No wonder Thomas Wolfe’s last novel was entitled, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

Fourth, take a look at the house ad on the inside back cover of the conference handbooks. In 2004, the SES world tour included Japan, Canada, the UK, San Jose and Chicago as well as New York. By 2007, the Search Engine Strategies world tour now includes China, Italy, Canada, Latino, Travel, San Jose, Local, France, Chicago, the UK, and Germany as well as New York. That’s 100 percent more Search Engine Strategies events than there were three years ago.

The exploding geographic reach of SES mirrors the exploding geographic reach of the search engine industry. If your search engine marketing and optimization campaigns are still focused on the U.S., you are literally missing a world of opportunity.

We can measure the rate of change in sessions, speakers, exhibitors, and geographies by examining these conference handbooks. But there’s one force changing the old neighborhood that we can’t measure: The changing demographics of the attendees.

Roughly half of the people at SES NY 2007 were first-time attendees, based on a show of hands in several of the sessions. About two-thirds appeared to work in-house for companies, instead of at search engine marketing agencies. It also seems like a much higher percentage of the attendees were women this year, compared to previous events. That idea was recently explored by both Shari Thurow and Rebecca Lieb at ClickZ.

I don’t have hard data to back up these impressions. Still, after comparing notes with other Search Engine Strategies veterans, many of us agree that the search engine industry is moving from the early adopter phase into the early majority.

These new members of the old neighborhood have different interests and concerns than the search community gathered to talk about a few years ago. That’s not a bad thing, or a good thing. Like gentrification, it’s a highly complex issue, one that we need to understand because this industry keeps reinventing itself at an amazing pace.

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

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