SES London 2009 Observations & Comments

I have a particular affinity to the SES London conference.  It was at this event about 7 years ago the GSI partners and I were referred to as the “dream team” of search and we have had our heads high with pride and delivered killer work since.  Attending the event also means I get to go on a long weekend with my wife to some great European city – this year we went to Paris.

What did I observe this year?

People want results – in all of the sessions and post session Q&A I heard people wanted more than fluff.  They wanted something actionable and how to get “more” out of what they are already doing.  The keyword research session was full with people wanting to know how to expand their keyword lists and better organize them to drive more people to their sites.  Many attendees were interested in any way they could find to optimize their campaigns and there was a significant undercurrent of cutting the clutter and just getting to the facts of how to make paid search work harder

Accountability & Validation – Interesting was how many people wanted accountability in the most accountable form of marketing.  The analytics sessions were full and people were asking hard questions about tracking conversions for both SEO and PPC.

SEO is hot – I was surprised by the number of people asking questions about SEO best practices even in paid search sessions.  The attendees I spoke with are under pressure to get more “free traffic” and ensure they have done all they can to rank well with organic search.  The sessions on optimizing videos were full – one person told me they needed to get in and learn since YouTube was the #2 search engine and they must rank well in YouTube for their important words.

Incorrect Information – I am amazed at the number of speakers who really have no clue how things “really” work.  I am not here to point anyone out but I think all the events may want to have a better speaker vetting process for those they allow to speak internationally.  What works in the US may not work in another country.  Just because someone knows someone or is a power blogger does not mean they are really good at doing what is best for the client. Note to attendees – just because you heard it at a conference or read it on a blog does not mean it is correct.  The team at Global Strategies always try to do a debunking session after each conference to see what clietns and prospects have learned, half-heard or now believe that may have a negative  impact on their business.

New Search Economic Models – I attended this session looking to see if anyone has cracked the code to one of the crazyiest compensation systems in marketing.  Search Marketing vendors have to contend with so many different pricing models it is insane.  The panel made some great recommendations about new models and how you should develop a performance plan for SEO which is great.  I am all for performance models in SEO but most companies can’t tack PPC performance let along traffic from organic search.   My frustration with the panel was that I did not hear ways to overcome the many reasons it is not practical.

Getting Back to Basics – in my session on “Integrating Search with Other Activities” there were 137 attendees in the session and I asked a series of questions tot he audience and their answers quite frankly amazed and scared the hell out of me.
Question 1 – How many know what their bounce rate is for their site, campaigns or specific pages?   4 people indicated they knew.  This is frightening.  These are people who you got to your site and did not go deeper.  We call these “one click wonders” and if you used paid search to get them you need to figure out why you are not connecting very fast.

Question 2 – How many of you have integrated your paid and organic data and analyzed it for opportunities?  3 attendees indicated they had done this.

Search Marketplace Growth – I moderated a panel on the State of Search Marketing.  There was some great data which I will report on shortly.  I asked the question of the audience about what organizations like SEMPO, the conference and evangelists can do for the marketplace and the following are some of the responses:

  1. Educate senior marketers.  Most search marketing engagements enter the company at too low a level.  We need education about search strategy and value to CMO’s and CEO’s in order to get more expansion.
  2. Consistent best practices – there are to many differing ways to optimize content and no real definition of priority.  Can anyone develop standard best practices.
  3. Support for in-house teams – these seems to be growing and as budgets are cut for agencies or agency fees reduced people will need support.  There were a few people who were asking about where they can get more information.

Networking and Catching Up – Maybe it is the abundance of pubs in London that make it one of the better networking events.  Everyone forms into groups and hits a restaurant where the most valuable updates are exchanged.  From the restaurant many regroup in the hotel bar which was packed every night to past 2am and this is where the “real information” is exchanged.  You learn about agency defections, client wins and losses and as the alcohol takes hold what techniques are working and not and how much more demanding clients have become.

I have to hand it to Stuart and Marylin for pullig off a great event.  Looking forward to next year!