Hey there! If you've attended SES Toronto in the past, you should have received an email offering a deep discount off the price of a pass to this, the world's best Canadian search engine marketing trade show coming up June 9-11, 2010. This early bird discount is so great, it doesn't make sense for you or your company to pay the higher rate.
The offer expires Feb. 1. If you didn't receive the email, ping me and I'll try to hook you up with the Right People.
Even in a down economy, or perhaps because of it, companies are investing more than ever in performance-based digital marketing. So it's perhaps no surprise that the SES Toronto conference turned in another strong performance this week. I was delighted that so many of the top speakers (too many to name here, really... ok... Mark Evans, Keith Boswell...Miriam Warren... ok I'm stopping...) we invited were able to make it. And if I do say so myself, the tracks (Nuts & Bolts, Corporateville, and Geek) seemed to be working well in getting folks connected with the type of knowledge they need in this fast-moving field.
The demands on marketers have begun to change more rapidly as reputation management, social media, and universal, personalized, blended, local, and mobile search have created a much wider array of relevancy signals and visibility channels. While introducing newcomers to the basics, the theme of the show was intended to expose us to data and debates about what's new in the field. I feel that companies that opt not to show up to these events - especially those constructing digital marketing plans from scratch - may be failing to ask the right questions in planning. It's too easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging tactics based on 2002 assumptions, on one hand, or to concoct hip-sounding but amateurish attempts to bust into social media (the Meatball Sundae syndrome).
Our keynote speakers, Tara Hunt and Emanuel Rosen (who just tweeted that Toronto is now his favorite city in North America!), deserve special thanks for helping us "anchor" digital marketing in real-world reality. Search engines measure relationships and relevance, but in the past have done a poor job of it. Marketers who only focus on the tactics suited to imperfect search technology from the past fail to see the need to create a variety of connections and authentic social capital upon which strong referrals are built.
The opening night party at The Drake Hotel (Acquisio sponsoring, with co-sponsors Page Zero and NVI Solutions) must have been good, too. MJ Lepage of Acquisio (pictured here) convinced me to speak French. I was shy at first, but those Acquisio t-shirts have amazing powers of persuasion.
If you scan the SES Toronto program, you may be curious to see little green magnifying glasses next to some speakers' names. For example, Shari Thurow, who is speaking on Day 1 on the SEO: Then and Now panel, is highlighted. The icon indicates that she is also leading a half-day training workshop on Search Engine Optimization on Wednesday, June 10.
If you're considering signing up for training workshops, consider doing so early. Shari's sessions in particular typically sell out. Seating is limited!
If you're planning to attend SES Toronto this year (or planning to send employees), take it from me. I've been going to multiple search conferences annually for about seven years and I can tell you these tips are 100% guaranteed to help you get the most bang for your buck, and reduce headaches.
1. Use Hotwire to save on your hotel. For many, it's preferable to stay at the conference venue, to be sure, but that can be pricey and they do run out of the better rooms. Most of the hotels Hotwire uses are close to where you want to be and they're dirt cheap! Why not save 50-70% off this item if you can? Here's a fun challenge. Try to book something at the conference venue itself using Hotwire! Now that would be a coup.
If you find something super cheap, in the 70% off range, wouldn't it be mighty tempting to stay an extra couple of days, take in a ballgame or play, sightsee on Toronto Island...?
2. Networking, schmetworking. Make your first priority to attend a lot of sessions. Yeah I said it! And when planning which sessions to attend, try to add some that are in your areas of weakness, as opposed to hearing a rehash of areas you already know about. Now once you've gotten your butt out of bed and attended keynotes and sessions, do you think that is going to hurt your networking? No, it can only help, as you'll now have something intelligent to discuss. You can sleep later, after the event is over.
3. If you hate paying half a dinner bill for 15 people, or simply hate awkward scenes where 15 people dither over the bill or throw 15 different credit cards into the middle of the table, avoid those 15-person "crowd" dinners. Toronto has a million great restaurants so why are you just following the pack down the street to Shoeless Joe's or Crocodile Rock? Get a plan together and take 4-5 interesting folks with you... not 15. You networked over lunch, at the reception, and in between sessions, and you're still planning to go to the party, right?
Let the other crazy kids brag about all the parties they went to while in NYC for SES. Frankly those are private events so you have to come out in person! (We will say the Internet Marketers Charity Party was a ball, though.)
No, the main thing PZ did while in New York was storm the hallways of the Hilton, doing our professional duty to spread the latest word about search ROI.
Is PageRank dead? How much do my page load times affect search rankings? Do big companies get social media yet? How do I get beyond linkbait? What the heck is linkbait? Inquiring digital minds want to know.
I am returning as Program Chair for SES Toronto, June 8-9, 2009. The event is being held at the Sheraton Centre on Queen Street West. As always it promises to be the digital marketing event of the year in Canada. With the help of the Incisive Media team, great speakers, and sponsors, we're teeing up another great program to help companies forge through these choppy economic waters with the ultimate in targeted, accountable marketing.
And as always, the networking, rooftop tanning, and cultural opportunities are just icing on the cake.
This'll be my last post about SES Toronto this year - you have to put the cork in something sometime, I guess. :) The team may have one or two more snippets to share on Monday.
I wanted to address two themes in this post; they're interrelated.
Without necessarily being conscious of it, as Kevin Ryan and I worked on putting this year's program together, we began with a thesis, or a question we wanted answered. Are a lot of the "core" search marketing tactics old and tired, warranting a new approach or even abandoning of the focus on "search" in favor of a more diversified visibility paradigm, call it Web 2.0 centric, call it social media optimization, or what you will? Session after session proved - without anyone having prejudged the answer - that we are ahead of ourselves in touting some of the apparent engagement metrics, benefits, "attitudinals" (Kevin making fun of some of the obfuscation of 2.0-world), and even good common sense of social media marketing outside of traditional search. And on the flip side, it was proven over and over again that we are underinvesting in and underestimating the immense power of the core search tactics and elements of full-scale professional search marketing:
Linking campaigns & beyond
Conversion optimization so that traffic isn't just leaking out of the "funnel"
How much we need to know about users, where they're searching, and how
How they behave differently in B2B vs. B2C scenarios
Feeds, from RSS to everything else (including Yahoo's new SearchMonkey)
Kinds of search, from video search to news search to vertical search to....
International dimensions, language, and culture in search
Webmaster tools and lab toys offered by the search engines
Research tools and tactics, including keyword research and competitive intelligence
Needless to say, I could go on.
By contrast, many of the kool-aid-du-jour campaigns and related mushy language - a "viral" YouTube video, a clever Facebook app, an interactive widget, etc. - seemed awfully expensive by comparison with getting all of the above right. Building the marketing sprinkles on top of your meatball sundae won't get customers into the basic navigation towards key objectives. This is not to dismiss the immense influence of social media. But we all need to be reminded to mine the rich ore on the land we already know and own, before raising big sums of money to go off in search of the next big discovery. Both are valid, but that depends on "what type of money you are." If you're hungry, don't get on a ship bound for a place with orange groves: pick the low-hanging apple right next to your hand.
Perhaps the biggest problem I saw with piecemeal attempts to just throw content into the social media channel, as I digested various case studies and comments, is the shocking lack of professional responsibility and continuity in these campaigns. Companies spend years building brands and examining the negative fallouts of different strategies and messages. Then they're supposed to just "throw in" with some ill-planned creative, grainy video, offbeat promotion, etc., without any projection of whether it's actually going to cost the company millions in brand equity, rather than being additive to the overall level of positive noise quotient as social media campaign advocates seem to imply? Wildfires burning out of control sure look pretty from the air, but who among us is really stupid enough to want one in our neck of the woods? A colleague of mine sometimes wisely points out the pitfalls of letting a process or message go "hog wild." Spontaneity and fun are, well, spontaneous and fun, but do companies really know what they're getting into? Me writing this blog is about as hog wild as it gets around here, and sometimes, maybe often, even that is too much. Yet Fortune 500 companies are outsourcing their social media campaigns to shameless promoters with no public relations experience and no qualms about subtracting a few zeroes from market valuations by releasing cheap-looking promotions into the social space.
One delegate approached me nervously about the schedule for late on Day 2. Would the link building session actually focus on link building? Because if he was going to have to hear more general talk about social media, he definitely did not want to attend that session. Fortunately, panelists Mike Grehan, Deborah Mastaler, and Jeff Quipp gave him exactly what he was looking for, with seasoned, real-world advice about link building in today's environment.
Great feedback about Bill Tighe of Google, and the other panelists on the Advanced Paid Search panel.
I received hearty kudos for Mike McDerment of Freshbooks and the other panelists on the "B2B is Different" panel.
You get the idea. The core stuff works. The core stuff has evolved tremendously. It is vitally important and it is still moving the needle.
I also wanted to bring Fredrick Marckini's opening keynote into this discussion. You could point to many individual takeaways from Fredrick, but a couple stand out for me. While Fredrick certainly explored the changing landscape of search visibility and the growth of new search features, new tactics, and global growth opportunities, what he kept returning to was his core theme, complete with cheesy Huey Lewis soundtrack: "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll is Still Beating." Hey, maybe we shouldn't be a bunch of dull folks sitting around swapping stories about H1 tags -- no chance of that for Fredrick -- but a lot of the core stuff still works. If you're too cool to listen to Huey, Fredrick's got some news from you (though he is far too modest to say so himself). Huey made him ridiculously rich, and Huey keeps him traveling around the globe as a core part of the marketing strategies of his agency's Fortune 1000 clients.
One and only one sub-point from that overall Marckini theme needs to be hammered home, I think. You can catch the rest at his next keynote, somewhere around the globe. That point is: Start Now. Search visibility and awareness don't turn on like a light switch. Someone else spent five years and $500,000+ getting to where they are now in the search engines and related online hotspots. Search success reflects social success, but that doesn't mean you become socially successful in a searchable way by trying a couple of gimmicks next week. You have to begin with a comprehensive strategy, and get going now, since yesterday already passed. There will be a basic 6 month lag time before you see any results to speak of. There will be another 2-3 year lag time before you really come into your own. Putting starting off for another year just isn't an option.
Yes, it's creeping up fast, and if you've considered attending or didn't realize it was this soon there is still time to get registered for Search Engine Strategies Toronto. There is a training day (choice of four half-day sessions) on Monday the 16th, followed by the conference proper on the 17th-18th.
As program chair of the conference that means a busy week of content and socializing for me. With sizzling keynotes from Bryan Eisenberg and Fredrick Marckini, dozens of top local and international speakers, and a bash at Ultra co-sponsored by Yahoo and Epiar, it promises to be a week to remember.
For newcomers to the event, consider that we've tried to set tracks appropriate to your needs: a basics track (get me up to speed), a practical track (more tips & cases), and an advanced track (for cutting edge tactics, new research, and hot trends).
We'll try to blog some info from a couple of sessions here, but that's no substitute for being there. See you there!
I had a couple of folks stop me at the e-metrics summit yesterday to ask: now that the agenda is posted for SES Toronto (full abstracts to come in a couple of days), does that mean final speaker slots are all set?! While it's definitely tough to get a speaking slot these days, we aren't *that* quick to finalize things... so not to worry, there is still time. But you have to pitch through the official form along with everyone else. :)
The main pitch window is still open (until April 15) if you want to appear on one of the panels. Please go to the SES Blog for the full instructions - and thanks again for your interest in Canada's biggest and best search marketing event, June 17-18 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
That's all I'll post here about the speaking side of things, as I'd much rather discuss the joys of attending the show. :) For example, we'll have some great keynotes as usual. Can't wait.
I'd like to congratulate my friend Mike Grehan on hosting a successful SES London conference.
With that perfunctory collegiality out of the way, it's time to get those polite but increasingly competitive Canadian juices flowing.
Canada, it's high time we outflanked London on the world map of search marketing.
Sure, the old country has its advantages: a pleasingly inflated currency unit, Leicester Square, green grass in February, and those fabulous accents. They've had their share of technological innovation, most of it concentrated in the 18th century. James Watt, improver of the steam engine, was actually Scottish. Depending on who you ask, the English can't even claim him for their own.
Canada stacks up great on many fronts. Sure, the British more or less invented humour, but who is flexible enough to spell it humor on demand, and to export our best to the lucrative US market? Canada, of course! Who's laughing now? Consider Toronto! Can you go on a Great Lakes boat cruise in mid-June in short sleeves in London? How about getting a four-star meal for something less than the price of a new home? Does London have an American League baseball franchise? Is it within driving distance of Cleveland, OH?
Canada is also the home of much innovation in telecommunications and media. Think "Marshall McLuhan". Think Blackberry. Early search engine ARCHIE - invented at McGill University. The first company to experiment with paid search: Open Text, a Canadian-born search engine. eBay cofounder? Canadian. Need I go on?
My projections for SES Toronto attendance have us tying with London this year, and blowing by them in 2009. But to achieve this, dear Canadian digital marketer, we need your help. Your company's showing up and be counted, I promise, will lead to wonderful results such as (in order of likelihood):
Your company dispelling myths about search visibility and achieving laser focus and efficiency in new customer acquisition this year
Your employees developing deep expertise in emerging areas of online marketing through attendance of in-depth SES Training Day sessions
Toronto overtaking Reykjavik and Shanghai as the latest "it spot" for global marketing savvy
Londoners conceding Toronto's superiority and as a gesture of goodwill, sending their cabbies to train our cabbies in the navigational arts
"Linkbaiting" being added to the official list of sports for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver
Part 2 of this post will follow shortly. I'll also be posting information about speaking opportunities here and elsewhere shortly. The planning for the program is underway, but far from finalized.
OMG, I just caught this one. A cartoon over at Search Engine People. That kills me! I think it's safe to say that neither Neil nor the "oldtimer" pictured to his left retired at 9:00 p.m. at SES Toronto 2007.
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.
Or is it storming the tunnel? Having coffee with some pals at BCE Place, I noticed this video ad for Search Engine Strategies Toronto 2007. These are showing on screens throughout the PATH, the interconnected series of underground concourses that connect pretty much the entire downtown. Sorry for the shaky-cam. Blame Starbucks Tall Bold.
The next day, to convey the proper statesmanlike image as Chair of this conference, I decided to hold a baby. However, possibly because the coffee had worn off, I not only slept like a baby - I slept while holding a baby! My neighbor looks worried.
Don't miss it! This will be the fourth and undoubtedly the best yet Search Engine Strategies conference in Canada. Along with Seth's food for thought, there is a full lineup of fundamental topics (SEO Don't's, Myths and Scams; Meet the Crawlers) and cutting edge tips (Get Dugg!; Perfecting Paid Listings) on tap. There's even a track called "Let's Make Some Money," in case anyone forgets the purpose of marketing. :)
It's nearly the end of April, and *finally*, true spring has taken hold around these parts. Out my way, just west of High Park, the forecast is for sunny & gorgeous all weekend, which means it won't be just the diehard runners frolicking in the park. Warning to swans: a horde of Torontonians will be stopping by to see you! In a perfect world, I'd be strapping on the rollerblades, but we'll see if that perfect world gets sidelined by the workload.
And speaking of hordes. I'm going to wager that this year's SES Toronto is going to be the best ever. Those of you who aren't on my LinkedIn list, or who didn't hear it through word-of-mouth at SES New York, may not be aware that I'll be this year's SES Toronto program chair. It's a very exciting opportunity to rethink some of the content, and also a really easy job in those cases where all I have to do is re-invite top-rated speakers. More detail about that will be posted next week. Also to come: confirmation of a terrific keynote speaker.
This is my own (co-)blog, not the official SES blog, so here I'll only be posting comments and maybe some photos of Toronto in Spring to entice you to come to the event. If you're interested in more official details about applying for one of the few available speaking slots, visit the SES Blog for instructions. Or visit the SES site for program, sponsorship, exhibitor, hotel, and registration information.
One thing to note is that for a two-day event, you have to be very well-organized if you do attend, or you're going to miss stuff. You also have to figure out a way to get to the parties and networking events on top of that. To make sure people don't miss out on the social and business networking side of things, in addition to official events, you can sure there will be some "additional" events planned; some might be for the day before or the day after the conference.