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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

SES San Jose Roundup, Part I (or, That's What Blogs are For)

In this burgeoning field of search, it becomes increasingly difficult for a working-stiff-cum-roving reporter to review every product or write about every issue. Blogging to the rescue. Here, in lieu of the feature articles which some of these things no doubt deserve, a few random observations.

In general: JupiterMedia says this is the largest show yet, and that's a credible claim. The conference is being held at a new convention center in downtown San Jose... and fortunately the spacious venue is doing a good job of containing the conference's business, though not its pleasures, as no shortage of four sponsored parties broke out yesterday in nearby bars and restaurants. The new venue for the show is much preferable to last year's Doubletree near the airport. Conference attendees have packed the brand-new, nicely-appointed Marriott and overflow went into the nearby Hilton. Speaking of packed, Danny Sullivan's keynote address packed Ballroom A today, with standing room only. And no small room, either.

Best party: I only went to two of 'em, and tonight's Google Dance and Yahoo's Next Big Thing party have yet to take place. But unanimous feedback so far suggests we might as well declare the election over now: LookSmart (remember them?) has outdone themselves again with a lively do featuring a live Latin band. The company has a new CEO, Damian Smith. It will be interesting to see what they do in the coming year to climb back on the horse.

Most surprising trend: The number of cash-rich companies, venture capitalists, and private investors openly scouting the show for service and software companies to acquire or invest in; Wall Street analysts and investment journalists, too.

Announcements of note: The exhibit floor looked to be the largest ever, also. The usual three rows format is now a mazelike entity of many rows of mostly-pretty-integral companies getting the word out. Two of the exhibitors who are releasing important new products are WebTrends/Webposition and Topix.net. Webtrends, the "industry standard" analytics technology owned by publicly-traded NetIQ, recently purchased SEM-tool standby Webposition Gold. It has also developed a working partnership with another popular tool vendor, Wordtracker. Now, these three technologies have been integrated to help marketers to do a better job of analyzing the return on investment from all types of search marketing campaigns, paid or unpaid. Webtrends' isn't the only solution out there, but the integrated package will be welcomed by agencies seeking high-powered, full-featured campaign analysis. Smaller shops who might have used Webposition in the past (following Google's advice, I don't personally touch it with a ten-foot pole) are being encouraged to upgrade to a fuller-featured platinum version. Topix is a news search engine aiming to be the category-killer by focusing on -- get this -- making a better product. This week they announced a host of new features. I'm a believer in its effectiveness -- I already use Topix for news search fairly regularly, although it's still easier to use Google News if you're already on the Google site.

Coming soon: ClickTracks plans to add bid management to its offering (announcement coming in September), strengthening its already strong hand in the analytics space.

Gender gap: A male member of the audience in one session (Creating Compelling Ads and Landing Pages, which had a 50-50 gender split if you include me, the moderator) made the important point that most panels are male-dominated and that the female presence at shows like this tends to be restricted to sessions dealing with writing. (Perhaps not entirely true, but that was one attendee's perception.) The audience and the panel couldn't have agreed more! What seems to happen is that small to midsized startups are (more often than not) created by groups of young men who have an idea and drive, but little capital. Limited capital and high risk require high trust -- in many cases that need for trust equates to what the pop psychologists used to call "male bonding." It takes a long time, sometimes, for the hiring process to reflect more diversity. The search marketing industry has happily reached the point where -- although at any given time there might be more men than women at a given lunch table -- it is not particularly male-dominated. As our postsecondary institutions are now graduating more qualified women than men, it would be bad indeed if this business were to have evolved into an anachronistic male enclave, but fortunately, it doesn't seem that it has. That's not to say that companies like Google -- which evidently has a diverse makeup in the middle and lower ranks -- aren't dominated by men at the level of ownership and control... but if the proportion of successful female search execs, and owners of and partners in search-related software and service companies, increases every year, we'll be getting somewhere.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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