Lee Odden posted a tongue-in-cheek list of Secret Benefits of Attending SEM Conferences on Monday. It’s pretty funny, and yet it got me thinking about the real reasons I attend search marketing conferences.
10. Breaking news from the search engines – At almost every SES, and at the inaugural SMX, at least one search engine has made a major announcement about a new feature or offering. You can read about these in the SEM blog posts, but it’s always better to hear them first-hand at a search conference.
9. Opportunity to ask questions – Whether it’s questions about the aforementioned breaking news, questions about a presentation idea, or just general questions about SEM, a search conference is the place to do it. I always try to ask at least one question per session I attend; and if I don’t get satisfactory answers there, I hunt down speakers or session attendees to chat informally. You can do this on the various SEM forums, but a dynamic, face-to-face conversation is always better.
8. Have your site reviewed for free – Most SEM conferences have “site clinics” or “landing page clinics” or similar sessions, where you can volunteer your web site for review by experts – for free. We’ve done this a couple of times (we call it “taking one for the team”), and we’ve gotten great feedback on our SEO efforts, landing pages, shopping cart, and other aspects of our site that have translated into improved conversion and money on the bottom line. This alone can pay for your conference fees many times over.
7. Meet your search engine rep – If you’re heavily involved in PPC advertising, chances are you have a dedicated rep at the various search engines. SEM conferences give you an opportunity to meet your rep face-to-face to talk about your account. This isn’t always possible, since every rep doesn’t attend every show. However, I’ve been able to meet a couple of my reps, and it’s always been fruitful, if for no other reason than to put a face with the voice at the end of the phone (or the typist at the end of the email).
6. Meet current vendors to discuss issues – It’s a rare search marketer that doesn’t work with at least one or two SEM vendors. At the larger shows like SES, these vendors are on hand, often with managers and other high-level executives manning the booth. There have been times where I’ve had trouble resolving an issue with customer service over the phone, and one conversation with the booth rep at a show mysteriously resolves these issues in a flash.
5. Meet prospective new vendors – As SEM needs change and evolve, the need to seek out new vendors crops up. Instead of trolling the net and hunting them down, you merely need to stroll the floor at an SEM conference. You’ll come back with business cards and literature galore, along with key information to help decide if the services can help you. And, as Lee mentions, you can get some great swag too. I’ve gotten cool stocking stuffers at more than one SES Chicago.
4. Interview opportunities from DM press – As SEM becomes a bigger industry, I’ve noticed more press representatives at the conferences, which wasn’t the case in the early days. I’ve been interviewed by industry analysts and more than one direct marketing journalist. Usually these opportunities have stemmed from the questions I’ve asked during sessions (see #9 above).
3. Networking Benefit #1: Meet Your SEM Peers – Whether you’re agency, in-house, or something in between, a search conference is the place to chat it up with your industry peers. SES has Birds-Of-A-Feather seating at lunch, which is a great way to hook up with those who share your interests. I usually try to sit at the “Paid Search” or “In-House” table, and I’ve met tons of great people who do the same thing I do for a living.
2. Networking Benefit #2: Rub Elbows with the Big Hitters of SEM – Along with meeting peers, search conferences are the place to sidle up to the industry shooters. As much as the search industry has grown, it’s still a very friendly place. Speakers, A-list bloggers, and other VIPs can be found at lunch, in the halls, and at the parties and bars – and I have yet to meet one of them that wasn’t more than happy to talk openly to me about search. Where else can you find Matt Cutts, Tim Mayer, Danny Sullivan, Barry Schwartz, Rand Fishkin, and a host of others, all in one place? I’ve had the pleasure of having lunch with Andrew Goodman, David Szetela, and Matt Van Wagner, and we’ve shared some great stories about search, and become good friends along the way.
1. Opportunity to live and breathe search for a couple of days – As an in-house SEM, I’m the only one at my company who’s “doing” search day in and day out. While most of my co-workers have a basic understanding of what I do, they’re certainly not versed in the details of it all. At a search conference, you’re in a world where everyone speaks your language. It’s like coming home from a long stint in a foreign country – you can finally use all the jargon and acronyms and what-not without having to translate everything you say.
I have yet to go to a search conference that hasn’t paid for itself for these reasons. Yes, the conferences are a ton of fun, but they also have tremendous business value.