@marknunney and @mald from the @wordtracker team will be at SMX London. To make sure he is spending his time wisely, Mark Nunney challenged show organizer, journalist and SEO practitioner Chris Sherman with the question: What use is a show for SEO? If you like his answers as much as we do then we'll see you at London SMX on 16-17 May.
Mark: What use is a show for SEO?
Chris: Danny Sullivan and I have been programming search marketing conferences around the world for most of the past decade. We understand the kinds of things search marketers are looking for - the new tactics, techniques and knowledge that can give people a competitive edge. More importantly, we also know the best, most capable speakers and carefully assemble panels of experts on each topic. The result is an intensive immersion into state-of-the-art SEO, with content for people of all levels of experience.
Importantly, this isn't just 'nice to know' information, but actionable knowledge that attendees can take back and immediately put to use in their jobs as search marketers.
Another extremely important aspect of our SMX shows is thenetworking. We work hard to make sure attendees have plenty of opportunities to connect with their peers, to swap best practices (and just to have a great time partying! :-)
The combination of the intensive immersion in content and networking make the SMX shows the signature experiences that they are.
Mark: I agree there is a lot of useful information given out. Too much to hear and too much to take in what you do hear. So how do you help attendees take that "actionable knowledge" home?
Chris: In several ways. After the show, we post all powerpoint presentations online so that attendees can access all the presentations, whether they attended or not. We also videotape selected panels, and put these online in our members area of Search Engine Land.
Perhaps even more importantly, we work with speakers ahead of the show to make sure there's little duplication of content between speakers on a panel. We also stress the importance of sharing tips and information that attendees can take home and put to use. Going forward, we're even planning to assemble a 'tactics guide' that will include at least one concrete, specific tip from each speaker - a sort of 'best of the best ideas' from the conference.
Mark: A lot of people have commented that SMX show content includes black hat practices. Does this mean that SMX is condoning black hat? Should such content come with a health warning?
Chris: We don't condone black hat, period. But we also acknowledge that some very successful SEOs use black hat techniques, and may share those on some panels. In every case that I've seen where someone talked about 'questionable' techniques it has been disclosed - sometimes with sly humor, but in a way that attendees should have no problem differentiating from kosher techniques. It's important to remember, too, that the search engines attend our conferences, and are all ears. Anyone being too public about a black hat technique is likely to discover that it suddenly doesn't work anymore fairly soon after a conference.
Mark: I'd add that I think that one of the roles of industry shows is to host industry debates, which for search includes black hat. Also, there is no doubt that those of us who have chosen the white path love hearing what the other side get up to and, it has to be said, they have some of the most entertaining speakers.
Mark: At an SMX show, what's the balance in content between SEO, PPC and social media?
Chris: We always try to strike a good balance between all three areas, but do tend to emphasize SEO a bit more in our west coast shows in the US, and ads a bit more in our east coast shows. Everywhere else it's a fairly even balance. The exception is when there's been a major change in the environment - say, the rollout of a radically new relevance algorithm or ad serving program - in those cases we may add additional panels to focus on those new things.
Mark: To what degree is an SMX show targeted at professional search marketers and to what degree is it targeted at their potential clients? Do the two mix well?
In conference sessions, we focus on professional search marketers. We know potential clients also attend, but often they are more interested in talking with exhibitors offering SEM services. We get a good mixture of both types of attendees, and get good feedback from both, so they do appear to mix well.
Mark: A lot of companies are interested in talking to search marketing companies and if they are not forward, to exaggerate a little, they only get to speak to whoever is at their table for lunch. How about setting up something more structured, like speed dating for companies and professionals?
Chris: As a matter of fact, we're going to be doing exactly that for SMX East. Stay tuned for details.
Mark: A search show can be a little intimidating for an in-house newbie hoping to learn about search as well as to network. How do you recommend they approach a show?
Chris: One of the coolest things about the search marketing industry is that it's still relatively small and everyone knows one another, and people are almost invariably friendly and willing to strike up new acquaintances - even the well-known 'rock stars' in the industry. I wouldn't hesitate to approach anyone and just strike up a conversation. Talk with people at breaks and lunch. Go to the parties, go to the hotel bar and buy someone a beer. Soon you'll have a group of friends who can help you network with others, and you'll feel very comfortable with the community.
Mark: I agree. Before you knew me you were very friendly, and I didn't even buy you a beer. (Readers: @mald and I will be at SMX London and I'd love to meet anyone who wants to say hello).
Mark: I think that once you know the technical basics of SEO, the main challenges are content creation and link building. Both of which (especially 'content') never seem to get much space on show agendas.
Why is that? (My theory is that most SEOs are techies at heart and content and link building use different skill sets).
Chris: The definition of content varies from industry to industry. We've run industry-focused panels at some shows (including last year's SMX London) where the emphasis is on content creation and what works (or doesn't) to build sites that appeal to both people and search engines.
That said, in a search marketing conference that's drawing attendees from a wide range of businesses and industries, it's hard to drill down on specific content-creation tips without alienating large portions of the audience. We take the view that as a search marketer, you should be a content expert (or work with one), and that what you're more interested in are the general search marketing principles and techniques that are fundamentally content agnostic.
Mark: You've been to shows all over the world, do you have any interesting observations on the search industry in different countries?
Chris: What's interesting is that the 'search marketing knowledge gap' is steadily closing. For years, the US was ahead of everyone else (probably because the search engines are based here). But in recent years, this gap has closed. You've now got really sophisticated search marketers in all countries - including so-called 'emerging' countries like China, India, etc.
A huge difference between countries is how comfortable they are with credit cards and online retail. You see a lot more (and a lot more sophisticated) paid search campaigns in countries comfortable with credit and e-tailers. Organic search dominates in countries where web users are more reluctant to spend online.
Mark: Which country parties the hardest?
Chris: Iceland. No ifs, ands or buts. The Reyjavik Search Marketing Conference is the only one where they make you drink 'black death' until the wee hours of the morning...
Mark: You've heard all the big names talk - who is the most entertaining speaker? Who gives the best advice?
Chris: That would be telling. You'll have to come to SMX and decide for yourself... :-)
Mark: A question about yourself, Chris. As well as being a journalist and show organizer, are you a practitioner?
Chris: When I have time. Between working with more than 100 writers on Search Engine Land, and organizing our SMX conferences, I don't get to do hands-on work as much as I used to. But I still like to wade in and experiment with both SEO and PPC.
Mark: Thanks for your time. See you in London on the 16th May.