The Decline And Fall Of Search Engine Strategies

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Earlier this week, the news broke that ClickZ Live, formerly Search Engine Strategies, was shutting down. Long-time search pros took to Twitter to share stories of how they got started in the industry speaking at SES.

As many of my readers know, I started doing search way back in 2002. It wasn’t long before I realized I had a lot to learn. So in 2003, while working in-house, I convinced the CEO of the company to send me and our IT director to Search Engine Strategies in Boston.

I was hooked. I got to hear the movers and shakers, including Andrew Goodman and Brad Geddes, speak at the conference. I met many of the people I’d been chatting with on the Search Engine Watch forums. The content was so valuable that I started attending SES annually. I even blogged about how much I loved it. SES was really the only game in town, and it was a great one.

In 2009, I had my first speaking gig at SES. It was the start of a love affair with speaking about search that continues to this day.

My last SES was in 2012 (not counting a small local show in Atlanta in 2014). I couldn’t justify attending anymore – I wasn’t learning anything, since the content had been watered down so much; and there were other conferences that were more valuable.

And then, in 2014, SES/ClickZ Live started charging people to speak at the big shows.  That was the death knell for the conference for most of us. Search pros just can’t afford to pay to speak – and why would we? Many conferences pay their speakers (although, admittedly, it’s not common in the search industry).


The whole demise of SES is sad, and yet not surprising. Search Engine Strategies as we know it died two years ago, if not sooner. Not long ago, out of curiosity, I checked the website for a recent ClickZ Live event, and I didn’t recognize a single speaker on the agenda. And the session topics weren’t interesting at all. I couldn’t imagine any search marketer worth their salt paying to attend, much less paying to speak.

It truly is the end of an era. Thankfully, there are plenty of other good search conferences out there: SMX, HeroConf, and Pubcon; plus some excellent local conferences such as SEMpdx, SLCSEM, and DFWSEM, to name a few.

What are your thoughts on the end of SES/ClickZ Live? Does anyone even care? Share in the comments!

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  1. Chris Nielsen says

    I started doing SEO back in 1999 and despite my interest I never attended any conference. I never had an employer that was paying me to do SEO and I couldn’t justify the expense as part of my business – I was too busy doing SEO for clients. I had to make do with reading JIll Whalen, I Help You forums, and other sources.

    Today the essence of real SEO seems mostly lost in a morass of link building and social madness. Young SEOs spend little to no time on keyword research and general optimization. They think it’s ok for the title tags to have the site name at the end and that good description tags are not important. Speak to them about using a keywords tag and you may get your head bitten off!

    If you have the address for the SEO retirement home, please post it. I’m ready to go…

  2. We focus on the SEM and CRO elements of digital marketing. We work with third party SEO service providers whenever the technique could be useful in a specific campaign. Through the years, we’ve found it damn hard to source a reliable SEO agency. At the risk of painting an entire industry with a broad brush, the field is full of con artists. After reading @ChrisNielsen’s comments, I feel sad that fly-by-night SEO operators have besmirched the reputation of an entire profession. On a side note, I’m stunned that you started search work as far back in 2002 and still found people who were makers and shakers even back then! On yet another side note, tradeshows have always been commercial but I’m seeing them becoming even more crassly commercialized in the last 5-6 years.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Well, there were fewer (and a few different) movers and shakers back then, but they were out there on the forums: SEW, Jill Whalen, and IHelpYou were the big forums at the time (this was pre-Twitter). I followed Danny Sullivan, Brad, Andrew, Netmeg, Frank Watson, and a few other “old timers.” It was a much smaller world back then. 🙂

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