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The SEO Conference Conundrum

I just got back from my second SES San Francisco Conference, courtesy of the generous folks at Linkdex. As always the conference was an amazing opportunity to network with some great minds in the industry, and as a bonus even a handful of the sessions were valuable. But part of me wonders if I would have missed much had I not attended.

at the conference

The Benefits of Attending Conferences

The Networking Opportunity

If anything has been consistent among the two SES San Francisco and the one SMX West conference I have attended is that the networking opportunities are superb.

Like in years past, these events gave me the opportunity to connect with folks I had mostly interacted with via the internet face-to-face. This year’s list included Matt Siltala, Duane Forrester, Bill Hartzer, Chris Winfield, Arnie Kuenn and a number of others.

That being said, I know a number of folks grab the Expo only pass for this sole purpose, but when you are from out of the area that might seem like a wasted trip.

Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are great networks for connecting with industry folks, but you truly foster a connection by meeting face to face and enjoying some old school one on one conversation.

The Giveaways

I’m not talking just the SWAG, though the expo halls of SES and SMX have kept a shirt on my back for the last three years, but the opportunity for actual useful stuff.

As always the expo hall offered up the opportunity to score free copies of various internet marketing books signed by the author.

This year I didn’t partake in these, but at my first SES I scored a signed copy of Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics 2.0 and Richard Stokes’ Ultimate Guide to Pay-Per-Click Advertising, which have a combined value of $65. Not bad considering all I had to do was show up.

As an added bonus to this year’s SES I won a copy of Lee Oden’s new book Optimize for live tweeting his session, again you can’t beat free. I’ve received free books at every conference I have attended and they were all of great value, you just have to know how to get “˜em.

The Knowledge

You’d think this would have ranked higher on the list, but the fact of the matter is that if you’ve been in the industry long enough most of the content presented is common knowledge and you’re lucky if you walk away with any sort of “Eureka!” moments.

Usually I walk away with a handful of new tools, some new ideologies and some cool examples to share, but nothing more.

I will say however, that comparing my two SES conferences to my one SMX, SMX seemed to offer up content that was more valuable to the seasoned internet marketer, where as SES seems like a conference for the internet marketing novice.

The Cons of Missing Conferences

SEO’s Hear What They Want

One of the biggest issues I saw during this year’s conference was that as people were live tweeting the sessions they would either miss points made by the speaker or skew the data in one direction or another. While it may still be better than nothing for those who can’t attend it is a cause for concern since oftentimes data was presented completely without context. And let’s not forget the Matt Cutts/Barry Schwartz snafu following Matt’s keynote at SES.


In the end it’s incidents like this this and many others that I witnessed that make me feel that in many instances if you really want the content, you’re going to be cheated if you don’t attend.

That being said, the team over at Bruce Clay Inc. always seem to do a solid job at live blogging the conferences, so if you do want a go-to source I would start there. Here is all their coverage from SES San Francisco 2012.

We All Learn Differently

A tweet telling you the Duane Forrester’s 6 major investment areas in SEO may be enough, but others may have gotten more out of it from hearing Duane speak, or even more seeing his slide with an optimization checklist.

Attending a conference allows you to learn and take in the information on various levels, something I have found is invaluable for someone who is trying to learn.

I know that even if I brought back every key element from every presentation at SES, the information won’t have the same impact on my team as it would had they been in the live session.

Again, like the context example above, context can go a long way and the presentation of information both in sight and sound can make a huge difference on how you absorb the information.

The Q&A’s

One of the nice things about conferences are the open Q&A’s at the end of the sessions, and the chance to meet and chat with the speakers after their presentations.

I remember during my first SES spending a bit talking in depth about link building practices in spamy niche’s with Debra Masteler. Her content was great, but had I not had the chance to ask specific questions I would not have had the same sort of value.

Not all businesses have the same challenges, and not all internet marketers have the same skillset. By having the opportunity to ask a speaker your specific questions a conference could essentially pay for itself it helps get answers to some of you or your organization’s biggest challenges


I think conferences are a great way to gain exposure, build a network, and potentially gain some knowledge, but I would recommend attending different events to get a feel for which one’s offer the most value for your investment.

After two SES’s I probably won’t be hitting SES again, but will definitely be giving SMX another whirl in the future and have my eyes on Mozcon and Pubcon for future opportunities.

Though live blogging and live tweeting can give non-attendees some insight into what it is they are missing, I still don’t think it gives the full potential to gain insight the way you would from attending a session.



  1. Carrie August 21, 2012

    Great post – and I agree. I have attended conferences, and I’ve followed them online. I feel like following online gets me the HUGE nuggets, but I miss some of the small but uber-valuable nuggets that are really important to what I know and how my clients operate.

    I also think attending more than one SMX or SES in a year gets a little redundant on the information. (I’ve done it, though) This isnt applicable if you’re talking about going to a specialty conference – like SMX Advanced, Social Media or Analytics plus a large show like SMX NY (not sure they’re still having SMX Analytics but I LOVED the one I went to in Toronto a few years ago).

    Pubcon is a MUST every year. I learn so much here and make amazing contacts.

    Thanks for the great post

  2. Lyena Solomon August 21, 2012

    Excellent post, Mike! I have trouble following conferences on line. It feels like I am staring at a puzzle with most pieces missing. Sometimes, I will follow tweets from a specific person, however, or grab links from Twitter stream.
    I talked to some people who get hall passes for conferences. They do a lot of networking. They go to lunches or coffee with people they want to interact with. It proves very productive. After parties are often a good way to meet people.
    Conferences are not like taking a class. It is possible to carry away nuggets of knowledge if you are paying attention. But if nothing else, it is always fantastic to talk to people face-to-face.

  3. Courtney Seiter August 21, 2012

    Tracking the conference hashtag and reading liveblog coverage can often be really valuable, but the face-to-face time really can’t be overestimated. I certainly would have missed hanging out with you, Mike! 🙂

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