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Saturday, August 16, 2008

SES San Jose: The Six-Year Club

The search marketing industry has got itself some serious headcount. In the past eight or so years since Danny Sullivan started the Search Engine Strategies conferences, the SEM community has also moved into a more comfortable relationship with the marketing and advertising world in general. As such, we see a healthy evolution towards overlap in roles, players talking across disciplines, and strategy as a much bigger part of the 2008 SES program, hosted by Kevin Ryan.

Search technology itself has also improved steadily - especially if you factor in the increased difficulty level of scale. Perhaps not so much if you place higher expectations on Google proportional to their $160 billion (GOOG) market valuation (sorry AAPL, that was a one-day blip), or proportional to their massive headcount. But still, search has improved in evolutionary if not revolutionary fashion. This has led people to alter their behavior; when searcher expectations are high, they search more, and more confidently, including looking for hard-to-find e-commerce items. This has led to a virtuous circle for search engine companies and e-commerce players, albeit in what looks increasingly like a winner-take-all environment.

Without all this evolution in search quality, the Long Tail hype wouldn't have any substance to it in practice. The Long Tail is what we used to call the haystack. Consider that giant haystack and searchers' high expectations of finding exactly what they need a permanent condition of today's business environment. A few companies think they're immune from all this. Most understand they need aggressive and measurable forms of direct response mixed in with subtle forms of brand management, to go with (or in some cases, to replace) the broad brand-writ-large approach.

The adversarial, often-zero-sum, "games" of organic search visibility and paid search placement auctions have evolved and become exponentially more difficult to win. So there remains a stark reality for companies playing in 2008 with 2000 or 2002's tactics: unless you get up to date, you're whistling in the breeze, friends. So it's a great idea to attend the shows to keep those cobwebs at bay.

I haven't missed a single SES San Jose: that means this will be my sixth SES San Jose, and my sixth Google Dance. That puts me in the club of diehards of diehards. And considering the mayhem we've gotten up to -- we probably should be dead by now. Some of us have mellowed slightly.

So that's another (or should I say perhaps the) undeniable benefit of SES Conferences: the events and networking opportunities. You do business with, and because of, people who remember you in a deep context. It's fun to attend the big events, but hosting your own intimate or special purpose event, as we found last year with Mona's book launch party, can be a good way to take time out to connect and reflect.

This year, why not check out the Internet Marketer's Charity Party, hosted by a variety of industry luminaries? A nice way to take a hectic week and pause to consider our obligation to help others.

For the sixth time: see you in San Jose!

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