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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Why the Search Engine Marketing Conferences Will Continue to Rock

Once upon a time, in the period 1996-2002-ish, there were legions of bored, underemployed hackers toiling away at nothing in particular. Many of them discovered a fun game that could also make you money on the side: search engine optimization. The money part was cool, but for most, it didn't amount to much. What hooked them was the game.

A second wave of similar folks came along in the period 2002-2005. They figured out that you could optimize "paid search accounts" and do all sorts of interesting things with keyword arbitrage, affiliate programs, and so forth.

In both camps, a few began acquiring good clients, and/or good jobs. But the majority did not. For the majority, their fascination with keyword research, bid strategy, and analytics, far outstripped the dollar value of the work. In other words, they were so interested in this field that they essentially worked on one or two "practice accounts" endlessly, 12 hours a day. Or they built elaborate attempts to profit from inefficiencies in the marketplace. Again, working on them 12 hours a day, for minimal profit, just because they loved to do it.

One key point in relation to this: when traditional marketing agencies pronounce that today's hotshot Internet marketers don't have big clients, and don't know all the history of customer response, the criticism just rolls off the young hotshot's back. It's hard to take offence with the latter. Most of this new breed was choking on breadcrusts not long ago, so of course they are just happy to be doing so well now. They never wanted to be, or professed to be, a certain type of knowledgeable marketer. As for not having big clients, that criticism doesn't hurt either... because increasingly, they do.

So in any case, these first waves of experimentation spawned a small army of search engine marketing experts with few clients and not much in the way of business savvy... but with incredible raw skills. When the dollar value of those skills became apparent to regular companies with assets and customers -- especially large companies -- these experts found themselves snapped up and integrated into the mainstream workforce. It is getting to the point now where there is a bit of a labor shortage. The number of folks who are really good at SEM, but still content to mess around for hours on end with "practice accounts," is dwindling.

What that means -- the integration of a much larger number of search marketers into the mainstream operations of companies -- is that you don't go to a search engine marketing conference out of wonkish interest anymore, or in the hopes of "it paying off" by teaching you tips that will help you personally profit enough to cover the trip and the ticket. Instead, increasingly, these shows are more like traditional trade shows. Attendees go as a matter of professional responsibility, and their companies send people because Internet marketing (about half of which is search-based) is a core part of their operations (not a get-rich-quick scheme as it was at one time).

The program for Search Engine Strategies Toronto (April 25 and 26) is nearly finalized. Because I'm a local, of course I would love to see this show do fantastically well, and continue to grow year after year. But I realize that this is probably going to happen in part out of a growing sense that it's a professional imperative to attend. Whether or not the likes of me engage in shameless "promo" -- companies are planning to send their people to the show.

But you should know that the lineup is first rate. Danny will be giving a rousing keynote and many of the speakers will be sharing fresh material. I'll be moderating a roundtable of Canadian marketers, and speaking on Perfecting Paid Listings -- where I promise to share newer, more advanced material for those that like that sort of thing. Many of the top speakers at Search Engine Strategies are on the program, and there might even be a party or two for the all-important networking component. See you there! I promise it'll be more fun than a night in Kincardine!

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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