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Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo is an event that brings together most talented and famous Search Engine Marketing professionals in the world. This event is held several times a year all over the world, and is hosted by JupiterMedia and SearchEngineWatch.com. Danny Sullivan is the name behind the show, but people come to this event for many reasons including to learn about search engine optimization and marketing, to hear about advancements in the search engine industry, to meet prospects and attract new business, and simply to meet people in the industry face to face and have a good time.
I was privileged to be able to attend the full three-day conference in Chicago that took place from December 9, 2003 through December 11, 2003. I have compiled a detailed review of each day of the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference at The Search Engine Roundtable Weblog; but I promised SEO Chat forum members to write an abbreviated and well-organized review of the conference. Overall, I recommend the conference to all those in the Web design, Internet marketing, advertising field, search engine optimization and search engine marketing field.
In the upcoming paragraphs I will cover the following:
- Overview of the Search Engine Strategies Conference
- Topics at the Search Engine Strategies Conference: What you can expect to learn?
- Advances in the Search Engine Industry and the RustyBrick Perspective
- Networking Opportunities and Exhibitors at Chicago
- The Search Engine Elite and Sometimes Wacky
- Search Engine Strategies Chicago Conference Wrap-Up
The Search Engine Strategies conference first took place on November 18, 1999 in San Francisco, California. Danny Sullivan told me "To my knowledge, it was the first search engine conference of this type." The first show attracted about 250 attendees and 9 exhibitors. The whole seminar took place over one day between 8am and 6pm. Some of the past speakers still present today including Danny Sullivan, Shari Thurow, and Dana Todd. Mr Sullivan said that this event was "great because I [Danny Sullivan] felt both 'sides' saw each other much less as enemies but instead as real people." Danny went on to explain that at this time, except for Overture, there was no one really in the paid listings market. Now, both the organic and paid people were in one room together and communicated face to face. Check out the first SES agenda at http://www.jupiterevents.com/sew/sf99/sew-agenda.html. The following year JupiterMedia hosted 4 SES events, in New York, London, San Francisco and Dallas. The shows drew between 300 and 600 attendees each. New York and San Francisco were the larger events. Check out the SES 2000 archives at http://www.jupiterevents.com/seminar-archive2000.html. The 2001 season for the SES conferences was a little different. They moved the New York show to Boston and added Denmark to the list of locations. The shows on average attracted between 300 and 700 attendees, and exhibitors ranged from 5 to 25 depending on the location. For the 2001 archives visit http://www.jupiterevents.com/seminar-archive2001.html. In 2002 SES added more shows, making the total number of shows 7 for that year. They added Australia and Singapore to the current list of places to hold the event. Denmark moved to Germany and San Francisco moved to San Jose, California. They had over 30 exhibitors at Boston and San Jose and close to 900 attendees. Check the 2002 season out at http://www.jupiterevents.com/seminar-archive.html. In 2003 they ran 6 shows and moved Dallas to Chicago - the conference this article will cover. The Boston show was the first to ever break 1,000 attendees and in San Jose they have over 1,500 attendees with over 45 exhibitors. In 2004 they will be moving the Boston show back to New York, and they are expecting to break the 2,000-attendee barrier. Danny Sullivan told me "In the US, we're also now at a four day, three or four-track format." He said, "There's that much content to cover." As you can imagine this short but exciting history has been filled with success and opportunity for all those who are involved.
The Chicago 2003 conference was held at the McCormick Place Convention Center. It is a very nice hotel and conference center. The Hyatt McCormick Place Hotel was very well equipped for technical people with high-speed Internet connection in each room and wireless access in the restaurant. The wireless did not work on my Apple Powerbook; but I think it was due to the Web site where you pay for access and not the actual network itself. Many people complained about the "hike" from the hotel to the convention center, but I did not find it to be bad at all. The walk was about five minutes and was all indoors with a nice indoor bridge. The first day I had to walk back and forth several times to see if my room was available. Needless to say, the Hyatt was sold out the first night. Why Chicago was selected as the location for a December conference, I do not know. It was cold, rainy and windy during my stay but I rarely left the hotel. Overall, I am satisfied with both the hotel and the convention center.
Frank Fazio from JupiterMedia reported to me at the conference that 1,200 people have signed up for the conference. 900 of those were conference attendees, meaning JupiterMedia received payment to go to the conference sessions, and 300 were exhibitor only attendees. The numbers exceeded the projections; and all those from JupiterMedia were extremely delighted.
The Search Engine Strategies Conference provided a tremendous amount of information to attendees. If you are new to the search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) field, you will learn a great deal in just three days. If you are an intermediate SEO/SEM, you will still learn a lot, and at the same time reinforce your current skills. But if you are an advanced SEO/SEM you will gain in other ways. The conference has something to offer to every one in the Internet field. The next paragraphs will review some of the tracks I had attended at this conference. For a more detailed and less organized review of the conference please visit my review of Day One, Day Two and Day Three. For a complete conference itinerary please visit http://www.jupiterevents.com/sew/fall03/glance.html. The remainder of this section will be a selection of sessions I attended during the three-day conference. Details of materials will not be discussed. Only an overview of the track and anything discussed that stood out will be mentioned.
Shari Thurow, a name synonymous with search engine optimization, was the single speaker for the Search Engine Friendly Design track. This track focused on how to design (code, layout and navigation of) a site in a fashion that is both good for your Web visitor and search engine spiders. The session's outline includes the definition of a search engine friendly web site design, the three search engine essentials and design considerations. The search engine essentials include something Shari calls the text component, the link component and the popularity component. This track is a must see for all 'newbies' to the field. Shari does an outstanding job of explaining the basics to any level designer and programmer. Shari Thurow wrote a very well organized book that goes into more detail then what she discusses at the track. I recommend that you read the book before going to the track. The book, Search Engine Visibility (ISBN: 0735712565) comes in both print and electronic versions and can be purchased at http://www.searchenginesbook.com/ or through your favorite online bookstore.
Andy Beal of KeywordRanking.com, Chris Copeland of Outrider Search Marketing and Dan Theis of SEO Research Lab presented the Search Term Research track. This track covered one of the most important areas of search engine marketing and optimization, how to best determine which keywords one should purchase and/or optimize their site for. Andy Beal discussed the importance of keyword research, how to actually select the keywords, the keyword research process, and the available tools to conduct keyword research, and gave very nice examples throughout the presentation. Andy also discussed some of the faults of the keyword research tools and some overall strategic decisions that need to be made during this process. Chris Copeland focused more on what needs to be done after your keyword research. Do you use organic optimization or paid advertisements? How do click-through rates differ when you tailor your description or use corporate name in the anchor text? Dan Theis took this presentation one step further by discussing the false self-satisfaction of ranking well for a specific keyword but (1) not getting click-throughs on that keyword or (2) not converting sales on that keyword. He also discussed other common mistakes of a search term researchers and how to avoid them.
Heather Llyod Martin of SuccessWorks and Jill Whalen of HighRankings.com presented Writing for Search Engines track. Balancing ones keyword density and readability within the content of your pages can be a hard task. Heather and Jill both explained how you could achieve a nice balance of both and rank well. Both described that you should not look at percentages such as keyword density, keyword divided by total words. You should first focus on making the page easy to read for the user and then look for ways to add your keyword phrases into the content. Both gave examples on how you can add these keyword phrases to your page copy. Heather was much more fluid and perky on the stage as compared to Jill. Both had very informative presentations but Heather claimed the prize for her speech delivery.
The final session for day one was the evening forum with Danny Sullivan. This session was an open-ended discussion where you can bring up any search engine related topic and Danny would talk about it. The first topic of discussion was obviously the Google Florida Update and Danny discussed it for a few minutes. He then began talking about the actual industry and where it was in the past and where it will be in the future. This was a very interesting and enlightening session and it gave the attendees the opportunity to be proactive in the conversation.
The morning keynote address for day two was given by Danny Sullivan. He discussed the Google Florida Update and the search engine industry revolution. Danny discussed his theory of "Invisible Tabs" and showed real life examples on how the search engines today are moving in that direction. It was basically a more organized presentation for what was discussed the night before at the Evening Forum with Danny Sullivan. The session was extremely interesting and thought provoking. For any of you expert SEOs, I recommend attending the keynote address at the next conference.
Optimizing Flash and Non-HTML Content track was designed to teach us how to take Flash or other non-HTML content and optimize it for search engines. The speakers for this track included Gregory Markel from Infuse Creative, Shari Thurow from GrantasticDesigns and Karen Howe from AOL Audio Video. Gregory's focus was on Flash content and how you cannot optimize it for search engines. The point of this track was to discuss how you should optimize Flash documents or implement "workarounds". Gregory gave ideas but quickly dismissed each one saying that he tried it and it didn't work. Shari gave a nice presentation as she did in the past; Shari's focus was on optimizing PDF documents. She eloquently gave examples of how you should optimize your page's content and the actual PDF document to rank well in search engines. Again, her book covers most of this discussion. Karen presented the most interesting component of this track, optimizing rich multimedia content. AOL recently purchased Karen's company, a search service that is designed specifically for rich media content. She explained the advances of this technology and how rich media designers often leave out the Meta data that is so crucial in determining the relevancy of the content. Overall, this track was disappointing - maybe the title should be changes to "Workarounds For Flash and Non-HTML Content". There was no discussion about how to use the "noscript" or "noframes" tag. When the question was brought up during the Q&A session, Shari said that you should not use the tag - make an HTML equivalent site. The session was about optimizing for non-HTML content, not about realizing that you cannot optimize for non-HTML content.
One of the best tracks at the conference had to be "Link Building" presented by Paul Gardi from Teoma/Ask Jeeves, Mike Grehan from iProspect, Eric Ward from EricWard.com and Marissa Mayer from Google. Paul Gardi explained how link popularity works on Teoma, which happens to be very different from how PageRank works on Google. Mike Grehan then gave an enlightening overview of the science behind Teoma's "link equity" structure. Eric Ward gave a nice presentation on how to get good quality links and then discussed some philosophical points on PageRank that was very interesting. Marissa Mayer discussed how Google's PageRank works with a nice one liner, "links are proxies for human judgment of page value". She explained that PageRank is not the only component to how Google ranks a page and should not be the single most sought after goal for a search engine optimizer. Make sure to catch this session at the next conference, it's a must see.
One of the new tracks, Getting Local is one of the hottest topics today in the search engine industry. The speakers for this track included Dick Larkin from TransWestern Publishing, Cheryle Pingel from Range Online Media, Stacy Williams from Prominent Placement, Richard Holden from Google and John Ellis from Overture. Getting Local was more focused on the paid side of search engine marketing then the organic side. The Google and Overture representatives both gave demonstrations on how their pay per click models work with the local component. Very impressive stuff; and it is a safe bet that the technology to target local customers will continue to grow and be enhanced. The other two speakers discussed how they pick keywords to target the local traffic to their sites. Overall this presentation went well, and you should expect more information at the next conference on Getting Local.
Meet the Crawlers has always been and will always be one of the most attractive sessions at the conference for a search engine optimizer. Where else can you get representatives from the top search engine all in a single room? The representatives for the search engines included Jon Glick from Yahoo! Search, Steve Gemignani from Loosmart, Craig Nevill-Mannig from Google and Paul Gardi from Ask Jeeves. Each speaker went over some of the new and exciting features that were added to their engines. Yahoo! showed off its new SmartSort feature in the Yahoo! Shopping portal. Yahoo! also pointed out that Inkotmi inclusion could possibly also get you listed in the Yahoo! Shopping portal. Looksmart is working on an interesting new method to crawl updated pages or fresh content. Instead of crawling pages on set intervals like many of the crawlers do, they will look at an individual page and then determine based on how often that individual page is updated, how often they should send out their robot to that page. Google now allows you to type in UPS, FedEx, airline reservation, patent and more numbers and will automatically give you the information you seek. Paul Gardi again discussed Teoma's unique method of determining link popularity but he also showed how Danny Sullivan's invisible tabs theory is making its way into Ask Jeeves.
Overall you can expect to learn a great deal from the Search Engine Strategies conference. There tends to be a lot more sessions for novice SEOs/SEMs but there is something for all levels at this conference. Most of the basic information you can easily learn by reading Shari Thurow's Search Engine Visibility book, but the conference does give you the ability to hear from the best. For a more detailed review of the conference, please visit the Search Engine Roundtable Weblog and the posts for day one, day two and day three.
The search engine industry is a rapid and dynamic market. Search engines are constantly updating and upgrading their algorithms and indexes to achieve the competitive edge. Search engine marketers spend several hours each day trying to stay up-to-date with these changes in order to provide their clients with better results. Most of these dynamic changes remain transparent to the average Web searcher, which happens to be part of the goal.
Most of the people reading this article are well aware of the Google Updates, also known as the Google Dance. The Google Dance is a time period when Google begins to update its index throughout the Google datacenters. Normally you will see a change in the search engine results page, where pages are added, removed, bumped up and bumped down. All search engines have this update process where the results change on a sequential basis. Each update is the search engines attempt to provide better quality results for the searcher. Better quality results for the searcher translate into a larger searcher base. Marketers look to advertise at search engines that have a large user base.
As covered by Danny Sullivan, search engines are trying to provide the most relevant results possible without the need to specify exactly what the searcher is looking for. For example, if you want to do a search for a picture of a map, the search engine should know that by typing in "map" to return pictures. Currently if you conduct a search in Google on "map" it returns Map Quest as the first result. The user then has to know enough about clicking on the "images" tab to specify that he or she wants map images. Google does tell you to try an image search if you type in "map picture" but Ask Jeeves actually gives you pictures as part of your results. And Teoma is one of these search technologies that is moving towards that area of search. Anticipating what the searcher really wants and making that transparent to the end user will prove to be the killer search engine application.
Other areas where you can expect advances to be made are in local search. When searching for a local specific keyword phrase, the search engines will try to provide the best possible matching results. How they do this is a combination of teaming up with the yellow page directories and using some sort of geo-filtering technology. Yahoo might come the closest to providing those results; but then again, you need a tab to get them in the format you are looking for.
With Microsoft racing to compete in the search engine market and with all the consolidation amongst Yahoo, Overture, Inktomi, and Alta Vista we can expect a lot of excitement in the upcoming year. Will MSN compete? The common analogy is the Netscape and Internet Explorer history. However, others still feel MSN is too far behind, and it is unlikely that they can catch up. Others believe that since Microsoft has such a control over the PC market that if they build the search into the operating system they can easily win over the market. Danny Sullivan argues with that by pointing out that search is already built into the Windows operating system, so why aren't people using it? I feel that Bill Gates will be focusing more on search and promoting it more in the operating system that people will be locked in to using MSN.
As with many conferences, people attend just to add new prospects to their lead lists and hopefully close new sales. I have personally met two people who came up to me out of the blue and told me straight out that they were there simply to drive some business. People attending the conference are there to learn about the industry and technology supporting the industry.
This section will not get into why people network. That is more for a business-oriented article. However, it will discuss whom you can expect to meet. The types of people who attend this conference include search engine marketers, search engine optimizers, Web designers, Web developers, marketing departments, Webmasters and even top-level management. If you have something to offer any of the types of people above, then you have a reason to network. I shared a cab ride to the airport with an individual looking to invest in a company that is working on some type of specialized search service. This conference provided him with the contacts to reach out to and ask these confidential and important questions.
The exhibitors at the conference included search engines, optimization and marketing firms, Web analytics companies, specialized search engine tools, yellow page companies and affiliate companies. Exhibitors had their own goals to be at the conference. I personally did not spend more then five minutes in the exhibitor hall, but from what I saw, the hall was crowded with potential customers.
The Search Engine Strategies conference is the one conference that brings together almost all of the search engine elite into one event. Experts from around the world, from popular search engines and from next door gather at this conference to share their knowledge with others. They also come to hang out and relax with their colleagues in person with a beer in hand. Many have the opportunity meet their favorite forum poster, article author, blog poster, or search engine representative for the first time face-to-face.
Some of the most popular names at the Chicago conference include (in alphabetical order): Bruce Clay, Scottie Claiborne, Barbara Coll, Mike Grehan, Detlev Johnson, Heather Lloyd-Martin, Chris Sherman, Danny Sullivan, Shari Thurow, Eric Ward, and Jill Whalen. You also get to meet representatives from Google, Yahoo, Teoma, Ask Jeeves, Marketleap, Microsoft, Looksmart, About.com, Did-It, JimWorld, Commission Junction, Lycos, SearchEngineWatch.com, and Position Tech.
HighRankings.com is hosting pictures documenting some of the more relaxed and even wacky moments from the search engine elites. Visit Scottie Claiborne's gallery at http://www.highrankings.com/scottie/chicago-ses/ and Mike Grehan's gallery at http://www.highrankings.com/scottie/chicago-mike/. Please notify me if you know of other pictures of this event. I would like to apologize in advance if I missed any names in the list above.
Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo is an event that is comprised of the most talented and famous Search Engine Marketing professional in the world. This event is held several times a year all over the world and is hosted by JupiterMedia and SearchEngineWatch.com. There are many reasons to come to the show including learning about search engine optimization and marketing, to hear about advances in the search engine industry, to meet prospects and attract new business, and simply to meet people in the industry face to face and have a good time.
I was privileged to be able to attend the full three-day conference in Chicago that took place on December 9, 2003 through December 11, 2003. I have compiled a detailed review of each day of the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference at The Search Engine Roundtable Weblog. I promised SEO Chat forum members to write an abbreviated and well-organized review of the conference. Overall, I recommend the conference to all those who are in the Web Design, Internet Marketing, Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing field. I am looking forward to the New York Show and hope to see you all there.
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