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Friday, June 15, 2007

SES Toronto 2007: Built By People, for People and Robots

Finally catching my breath from Search Engine Strategies Toronto 2007. As close to an unqualified success as I could have hoped. Many attendees including Pauline from HighRankings (who interviewed me for Jill's newsletter) noticed that the freshness of the program spurred speakers into coming up with new, fresh, cutting-edge material. That gave sessions the buzz that might have been missing from the less-than-stellar beverage tables. Pauline also asked if there were any new speakers. There certainly were! We had the chance to see several new SES faces including Helen Overland of non-linear creations and Tamera Kremer of Wildfire Strategic Marketing. (hehe Tamera, don't worry, your link comes below...)

A lot of the big highlights for me were in sessions I attended or moderated, and of course, in having the distinct pleasure of welcoming Seth for our keynote. Like the consummate professional he is, he tailored his talk just for SES Toronto, offering his hilarious take on a "brief history of search" before trying to prod search marketers into stepping away from tactics to focus on the bigger picture of making ideas spread. Seth, I'm sorry, but we're going to really need to drill down on your candy store example from Highway 11. My colleague Mark in the standing room in the back did some instant calculations on the total sales and average cost per order, and we feel that Rita is perhaps not as remarkable as she lets on. :) But then again, Mark grew up in Sudbury, a fair ways north of Rita's shop, so he's had plenty of experience challenging the tall tales of people from warm-weather climates (like Orillia, ON, or the tri-state area).

Back to sessions that offered new insight. Nick Fox of Google (the less famous Fox) slipped us updated insights about quality score and in fact even a couple of algorithmic elements that I hadn't seen published anywhere. Who says you don't pick up secrets at SES? There were quite a few sessions where new info came out in Q&A.

There are too many others to mention. Gord Hotchkiss, to name just one, was noted in the feedback I'm hearing not only for his fresh material but also for his edginess! Apparently Gord thinks Canadian advertisers need to .. what? Whatever it was he said, I promise to send him a case of generic Cott cola complete with the Canadian Politeness Serum so he'll stop encouraging people to wake up and do better. :) Martin Byrne of Y!SM Canada actually got a laugh with a meta-joke about there being a high probability of a rise in Canadian statistics. Well, this is Canada after all. We love meta-jokes about vaguely governmental-sounding stuff.

As I've always held, the power of a Search Engine Strategies conference lies in the tireless contributions of fresh material by panelists (those offering sales pitches only are soon excommunicated), and the power of the network. And if by "network" you think "party," so be it. It was that, too.

Thanks also to the insights offered by the afterbloggers like Jonathan and Tamera. Keep up the good work, everyone!

For authenticity's sake I need to throw in a negative or two. Well OK, I really didn't like the sandwiches. I rarely do at these things. I think we need to work on that. And needless to say, thumbs down to the Fairmont Royal York for overbooking their hotel by a count of something like fifty, sending a number of us to the nowhere-near-there Delta Chelsea, and a number of others (including some Googlers) to the Days Inn. FedEx got our rooms, as we could plainly see from the "Welcome FedEx" lapel buttons sported by hotel desk staff. Can $200 in "I'm sorry" vouchers undo the damage to a quality hotel brand that can't keep a reservation, and makes arbitrary decisions about who is more "important" to their business? Not screwing up so royally in the first place is always a better way to go.

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