Posted by jennita
This past week at SES San Jose 2009 gave me the most mixed emotions of any conference I’ve attended yet. There were parts I loved and parts I was disappointed in. Add that with trying to complete regular work plus cover the conference for SEOmoz, believe me it was a bit crazy. Some of you may have also heard about the rough start I had to the conference… I booked the wrong flight home, had to find a hotel last minute, wasn’t on the list for a press pass (which they fixed right away), the list goes on and on really. Still, I didn’t let this stop me from learning new things, meeting new people and on the last day (after 2 full days of stalking), I nabbed an interview with Matt Cutts. 😉
As with anything in life really, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. This is true for search marketing conferences and for SES San Jose, it was no different. Whenever I attend a large conference or even small meet-ups, I’m in awe of the people who organize the event. It can’t be easy to coordinate everyone from speakers to attendees, from booth setup to making sure everyone is fed (more on that below). You would have to know that as you’re working your butt off to get everything done, that there will be people who love and others who hate certain aspects of the event. For me, that is the beauty of it, I mean how boring would it be if we all loved everything all the time? So please, follow along, as I bring you the good, the bad and the downright funny from the conference.
The types of speakers you have in any given session can either make or break it. The topic could be something as exciting as Black Hat vs. White Hat but if the speaker is as dull as dishwater then the entire session comes to a screeching halt (and people fall asleep in the first row). However on the flip side, when a speaker is so dynamic that he or she can keep a crowd of several hundred people interested in analytics right after lunch, then you have a winner in my book!
If you’ve ever seen Avinash Kaushik from Google speak, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Right after lunch on the first day, Avinash spoke at the session "How to Turn Your Web Analytics into a Money Making Machine." This is one of those sessions where you know you’ll probably learn some good information but only if you can keep yourself awake long enough. Not in this instance. Avinash started with great one liners like "Life is not a one night stand" and one of his slides was labeled: "Sexy: Search + Display." He knew exactly how to keep the audience interested and laughing the entire time. The biggest take-away by the audience seemed to be when he was asked what tool he used to find all his data, and he said he used Google Ad Planner. I’m pretty sure Google saw a spike in usage soon after!
I went to the "SEO Tools of the Trade: What’s in your Toolbox?" session a little miffed that SEOmoz wasn’t represented and was ready to ask the speakers about it. With six speakers plus the moderator there wasn’t time to ask any questions (see "the bad") but I made sure I made myself known by sitting right up front with my SEOmoz T-Shirt on. 😀 Although not one of the speakers mentioned SEOmoz (boooooo) I actually walked away with a few additional tools in my toolbelt because of it. It was interesting because many of the speakers had tools of their own, and most pitched them. What I liked though was that Bruce Clay spoke about what to look for in a tool and what kinds of tools to look for. He didn’t preach about how awesome his tools were, but gave excellent, useful information about finding the right tool (it would have been even better had had the chance to explain how we have a tool for every one of the points he made. 😉
In the "Search: Where to Next?" session, I loved that Chris Boggs mentioned SEOmoz as one of his favorite blogs. Woot!
Although the speakers can make the sessions, there were a few other gems that made my "thumbs up" list. As usual, the exhibitors had great schwag. I loved that the first two rows in each section were reserved for the press. This allowed all the live bloggers and others to have a place to sit and type their hearts out. I’ve seen many people trying to live blog with their laptops in their lap. And speaking of live bloggers I have to give a shout out to my roommate Keri Morgret who I coined the name "best roommate ever" for bringing chocolate muffins, coffee and other yummies to the room.
I can’t forget to mention the great networking and evening events that took place. For me, networking was one of the most valuable aspects of the conference. Searchbash that was put on by WebmasterRadio.fm and the IM Charity Party were great fun and I loved meeting new people and spending time with friends.
Every conference has its issues, and let’s be honest here, you can never please everyone. SES San Jose had a few "thumbs down" in my opinion. There were the poor people at the superpages.com booth who had to wear bright yellow capes (as torture of manning a booth for two days). Or the very nice lady at AOL who stood alone while most of the other booths were packed with people. I hate to even mention the food since really I’ve seen many blogs already talk about this… but sheesh! They served us the SAME FOOD for 3 days in a row. It was also strange that around 11am every day, the coffee seemed to disappear. Uhm, hello! We need coffee to keep us going through the full days (and some to get over that hangover).
Then there are the speakers. Often times in a tech oriented industry you’ll get a speaker who knows her business but come on, she really has no right speaking to large audiences. Other times you may find someone who knows his information so well he seems to get lost in the speech and forgets he is supposed to be talking to the audience and not just within his own head. Or what about the moderator who feels she has to ask each speaker a question after their presentation to ensure everyone knows she paid attention? This conference also seemed to have more speakers than most sessions could handle and several times there was no time for Q & A, which in my opinion is usually the most valuable aspect.
There were a few who seemed a bit nervous and others who read straight from the Powerpoint presentation (this is when the afternoon coffee would have come in handy). I can definitely understand being nervous; speaking in front of hundreds of people is quite nerve racking, even if you know the topic inside and out. But one thing I had a hard time with was hearing a speaker give outright bad (or at least, incomplete) information.
Now, I’m far from perfect, and I’m positive I’ve lead people down the wrong track before so I’ll give Stoney deGeyter from Pole Position Marketing the benefit of the doubt that perhaps I misinterpreted him. However in the "Search on a Dime" session he told the audience that the meta description was not valuable, and that if they didn’t have time to do it to just let the search engines find the content of the page and determine what to put there. EEK!
This was said to a group of small business owners who were looking for ways to rank well without spending a ton of money. They should have been told how the meta description is unimportant for ranking factors but that it is UBER important for the ever-important click-through! Small business owners should know that having unique meta descriptions is essential and making sure that they’re created to entice users to click that link in the SERP and pull people into their site. The idea that leaving anything up to a search engine seems rather ridiculous. (It also didn’t help matters that when asked how he suggested getting developers to make the necessary changes on the site his answer was "Tell them to make the change and if they say no, fire them." As a former full-time developer this really left a bad taste in my mouth.)
By the way, the entire session wasn’t bad, in fact David Mihm’s presentation was spot on. He gave us excellent information about local search without so much as pimping out his ridiculously awesome site GetListed.org. Even Matt Van Wagner showed us step by step how he put together a local search campaign, although I wasn’t too sure how that related to search marketing on a budget, but it was still good information.
There was one particular quote that seriously made me laugh out loud. It really tickled my funny bone when Pavan Li from Microsoft was trying to get something to work on her computer while she was taking questions and she said "We’re used to making simple things complicated." The room lit up with laughter after that one!
Later that same day, after Avinash had explained how rich old men search for Paris Hilton more often than other groups, Mike Grehan the moderator, took the mic to announce the next speaker and said "I’m just an average guy looking for pictures of Paris Hilton."
The highlight on the last day, was the "Extreme Makeover: Live Site Clinic." With Matt Cutts, Greg Boser, Elisabeth Osmeloski, Tiffany Lane and Vanessa Fox reviewing websites, it could have been pretty straightforward and down to business. However the session started with a review of mypleasure.com and ended with hookah-shisha.com. Let’s just say there were many blushing faces throughout the entire session and at one point Vanessa said, "and I would listen to what Matt says because he started in porn" to which Matt responded (after a few seconds of the audience laughing), "What Vanessa means by that is the first thing I did at Google was that I worked in safe search…" Hah!
I’m sure there were many more funny moments but as a one woman show I couldn’t be in all places at one time. With that, I’ll end with my favorite quote which came from Chris Boggs on the first day, "SEO is alive, long live SEO!"
More: continued here