The Problem with Search Conference's

31 comments
Story Text:

The recent SES Toronto get's a slap with this post by searchengineoptimizer for being too basic. "I didn't get very much out of this conference - found it to be VERY basic info..."...

The expected rally round from SEW mods and responsibles was expected, though done well, and Danny popped in at msg #9 to say..

Chris will have to comment more on the Canadian show. What I can say is doing advanced topics is a challenge when you only have two days and two presentation tracks. You have to cover a ton of basic stuff because there's a ton of new people always coming into the space.

The US shows have matured into the four day, four-to-five track formats. There's much more space to spread out and get into more advanced things. The networking has also matured there with the recent birds-of-a-feather tables.

I'm sure you'll see the Canadian show grow along the same lines.

Which sounds reasonable. Reading through the comments though, you get the impression even seasoned SES speakers are bored with "sessions" and do most of their learning in the bar (suprise!)...

Whichever way you look at it, SES NY took a lot of money, and im assuming it was profitable also. On the basis that i've never attended an SES it would be unreasonable to comment further, so I will, with a couple of questions:

  • Has SES become too mainstream, or is the bar worth it?
  • Is he expecting the wrong thing, ie. is lack of advanced topics at conferences the norm? (im guessing so, and think that's a good thing.)

Comments

SES is great for newbies and white collar

I've been to two of these and both times the only benefit I got was meeting new people.
As such I'm just paying for the expo here in London.

For me they are pitched at 'agency type people' who need a bunch of numbers, case studies and names before they charge a client too much.
Any full time SEO is better off giving these a miss if you're only going to learn something new.

Oh - and don't try to sell your SEO services when you're there.
Every man and his dog is there touting their skills and looking for business.

Simple Model - Larger Range of People = More $$

It is pretty simple:
The simpler the material, the more people it applies to.
The more people it applies to, the more people register.
The more people register, the more money organizers make.

The more money they make... well guess I made my point...

... and white hats

... because the real nitty gritty "black hat" stuff doesn't typically get a lot of coverage - if featured at all, it's on an "also run" basis. Which is quite ironic as, in my experience, these slots do tend to be filled to the brim.

So attendees' interest seems fairly huge but obviously the organizers aren't too keen on it.

Which is a pity because that way people who honestly want to learn what it's actually about won't get serviced. Quite amusing, really, seeing that "white hats" create all the buzz whereas the "black hats" arguably constitute the majority, he he. (No, not in public confessionals they don't - of course not ...) So the overall picture is a mite skewed to put it mildly.

 

I don't know what hat you want to give me but I say the same things at conferences as I do anywhere else in public. I also find a lot of other great speakers and SEOs at SES that do the same. Off course a lot of sessions can seem pretty basic to more experienced SEOs but many sessions are quite open for whatever level of questions is asked - such as the organic forum (with a panel) we had in Toronto. If you've seen Jake, that was on that panel with me, you'll definately agree that he is not particular "white hattish" :)

In general I don't think Danny or Chris try to avoid any "dark side" sessions. We had a packed cloaking and doorway session going on for years that I did with John Heard (in the US) - but it kind of died out. Most attendies seems to be asking for other things now. Danny and Chris really just try and keep up and adapt to the ever changing needs. And most times I think they do pretty good.

"Black hat" isn't just "cloaking"

as you will be the first to acknowledge. And while I certainly won't contest your conference experience, which definitely beats mine by years, judging from both from the conferences I have attended and from current client inquiries I didn't at all get the impression that people aren't that interested in it anymore. But ok, that's just my own anecdotal evidence.

I know Danny and Chris aren't standoffish re that stuff, and I'm not complaining either - but anyone who takes a look at the conference agendas will see that it's widely underrepresented.

 

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I know Danny and Chris aren't standoffish re that stuff, and I'm not complaining either - but anyone who takes a look at the conference agendas will see that it's widely underrepresented.

No offense, but thank goodness! :)

Sure, Jill

helps to drive up pricing no end - certainly don't mind that myself. I assume you don't either. :-)

Contrary to what's hawked as common wisdom in present day marketing, there's also that time proven adage that "a bad reputation is always good for business", so the more vociferously all those "white hatters" try and trash us "black hats", the heartier we can laugh all the way to the bank ...

Anything that's good for the client, eh?

<BOW+FLOURISH>Thank you, thank you, thank you, madam!</BOW+FLOURISH>

[fantomBlackHat out in pursuit of his evil moneyraking ways.]

Why would you say that Jill?

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No offense, but thank goodness! :)

I can't understand why keeping information from people is *ever* a good thing.

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Fantom, I only mentioned the cloaking sessions as one example. I could give you a long list of sessions, speakers and things that has been said from the panels at SES that definately is NOT within the SE guidelines :) Are you suggesting that speakers such as me, Greg Boser, Jake or Oilman are white hats? Or that we hold back on talking about darker issues? I really don't think so

How ironic

that another thread I was reading somewhere is about how horribly dark hatted the lecturers and attendees at SES's are.

You can't please all of the people all of the time...

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> that another thread I was reading somewhere is about how horribly dark hatted the lecturers and attendees at SES's are.

Yes, very funnu - but also a very good example of how difficult it is to please all. Thats why I think it's good to have different conferences with different "styles" - I am sure we will soon se more "pure white hat" conferences - the darker ones are already there if you know the right places to go (kind of like with secret Poker clubs) :)

Keeping the advanced stuff for the final day...

It seems to me the best way to market the advanced, cutting edge stuff would be to present it all on the final day.

That way, you can market/hype the final, "advanced, cutting edge workshops" to the beginners for 3 days, and set up rules such that it's clear that newbies are not allowed to ask questions in (read: slow down) the advanced courses. They'll still want to be there.

I teach an online marketing class, and this method seems to work out pretty well, as long as you are clear about the structure of the class up front.

Brilliant idea

esp. the bit about not being allowed to ask questions, he he - makes for mystique and actually allows for smoother procedure.

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How'd you tell the newbies from the leet seos? Badges???

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>badges

Look for large piles of beer bottles and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. If things go dead-quiet when you walk up, you're at the right place. (Not kidding)

Black Hat Is Tough

You know, I had a final paragraph I started to write in my response on the SES Toronto thread but ran short of time.

Basically, it goes like this. You can't do a session on black hat secrets, not at SES, not anywhere that's formally done or where you're going to have a significant number of people around.

Why? Because Matt from Google and Tim from Yahoo are sitting there in the back of the room, happily taking notes on what loopholes to close.

We definitely do a lot of advanced sessions at SES when we've got the full four days to run. But advanced to me from many people means opening your eyes and understanding that vertical search is coming on strong, so are you read for that. Advanced means do you understand the nuances of how press releases and news content has an impact. Are you planning to offer reputation management services. And this stuff does come at the end of our four day shows as well.

If it's algo busting -- yep, it's going to be the bar anywhere, if that's what you're after. You'll need to do it privately and keep looking around to make sure Matt and Tim haven't snuck up on you :)

Having said that, we do also get into some issues as well that might be considered black hat -- heck, we had an entire session on Black Hat/White Hat issues. Link building touches on some of this stuff as well.

Anyway, it's not an issue of not wanting to cater to only white hatters. If I put together a conference, I try to cover all types of things that I think will help an incredibly wide range of people.

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>Black Hat Is Tough

Agreed. You can't make conference money OFF blackhats but you can make money WITH them.

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I agree with the bar thing (I'm sorry I can't make it to TW'05). I'm sure that most SEO conf. type afterparties happen in bars that have both a non-smoking and a no-reps-please section :-]

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> I'm sure that most SEO conf. type afterparties happen in bars that have both a non-smoking and a no-reps-please section :-]

Actually, you'll be surprised by who share what. At the first MSN launch party I noted Oilman showing the MSN engineers his spam-pages and how well they ranked, and as I recall Greg Boser was showing off his tools to them (or maybe that was Google, can't remember af all those Martini's)

Hardcore codemonkey stuff

isn't really the thing for such conferences catering to a more general public, Danny, agreed.
That's for dedicated closed shop HackCons to cover, sure.

The bar thing is a given - this holds true for most all industries and even for unlikely events like international religious conferences, etc. (When the latter occur, the local cathouses will routinely solicit outside help to cope with demand, heh.)

It's more a case of an imbalanced overall picture than anything else - just like I wrote in my response to Jill: while the "white hats" seem to hold a monopoly on public perception of what's "real" (read: "good") SEO and what isn't, in my experience real life practice doesn't bear this out one bit, all tactical blubber about "staying strictly ethical yadda yadda" notwithstanding.

Of course, for want of verifiable empirical data we're reduced to mere guesswork, but I do believe it's more than just my/our subjective impression when I say that "black hat" SEO actually constitutes the majority of real life operations rather than the activity of some "antisocial fringe" ...

things go dead-quiet when you walk up, you're at the right place.

A dead sure giveaway, yep! :-)

Oilman showing the MSN engineers his spam-pages

and they still kick ass on MSN ;)

Ah, but then you've seen the light

in the meanwhile, haven't yer? :-)

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there's a light? hehe

LOL

That's the stuff that blinds you when you happen to crawl out of your spammers cave to be confronted with a fuming white hat. Faster 'n anything else, you know ... :-)

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as I recall Greg Boser was showing off his tools to them

I did demo some tools for Matt. Of course, I only showed him our Yahoo and MSN tools... :)

On a serious note, I think it is important for people considering attending a SES to have a bit of an understanding of the overall culture of the event. It is true that the majority of "good stuff" gets discussed away from the sessions. Danny pretty much covered the reasons why, but I wouldn't want anyone to think that all speakers are unwilling to have those conversations in the appropriate environment. For me personally, when someone asks a question that I don't feel comfortable answering in an open session environment, my response is always, "ask me later in the bar."

It is also true that there tends to be some strong "clicks" that, to the new attendee can be a bit intimidating. However, I can promise you that 99.9% of the regulars who attend/speak at SES are extremely approachable and friendly people who are more than willing to talk shop until the sun comes up, or the bar closes. Which ever comes first.

In the end, those that make the effort to jump in and introduce themselves, are usually the ones that leave feeling that the trip was more than worth it. Those that sit back and keep to themselves are usually the ones who leave feeling it was a waste of time.

How'd you tell the newbies from the leet seos? Badges???

Ask them if they have their room booked in Edinburgh yet.

Haven't booked

Edinburgh yet, but still debating. Weekends are for the kids -- with London, at least it was only stealing a day away.

Ralph, definitely all I can say is that I do try to show that balance, even in the shows. Mikkel, Todd, Greg among others have been quite happy to discuss black hat or talk about why white hat might not work in some cases. Believe me, they don't hold back -- and I'm glad to have them there. I want people to understand a full picture of SEO, not just some "it's all rosy" scenario that's not reality.

Personally, I guess it also goes back to something we had come up on the forums, when someone suggested having a black hat thread. My initial thought first was that forums (like conferences) pull in a lot of newbies. I want them to learn all the basics first, which is often heavily white hat. Good content, basic techniques -- it's so simple to us, but even that's overwhelming to a lot of new people.

For a lot of people, that's also often enough. You got a great site, are a big brand -- that stuff may work pretty well for you. If it doesn't, great -- you might decide you want to dive into more aggressive tactics. But I definitely don't want you starting there.

Hmm, what was that quote from a Yahoo rep who shall remain nameless, about you not wanting to take a sword to a gunfight? IE, don't expect white hat may work in an area heavily black hat. Perhaps, but I'd still like you to learn swordplay before handing over that assault rifle. You're likely to hurt fewer people, plus you probably won't blow your own foot off as fast :)

And where

hehe - wouldn't want to waste valuable pub time running or driving around all over the place.

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I was at Toronto and the SES conference is what you should expect. If you have a room of 100 newbies and some search engine reps you can only talk about low level general stuff. You can't dicuss loopholes, not if you want those backdoors to remain open. The sessions are not very appealing to me.

I still had a good time. I am not going to mention names, but me and 4 other TW members went drinking across the street at the CN Tower and then moved our drinking to the Google party. If anyone is complaining that SES is only good for newbies, then they obviously haven't looked at who is in the bar.

There is also good info at the show, during the sessions I went into the expo hall and spoke with a MSN engineer. It turns out he wrote their adult filter. Needless to say that one conversation was worth me flying up there. The partying was bonus.

Sword to a gunfight?

Hey Danny, I never insinuated that people Mikkel, Todd, etc. were keeping "black hat" stuff behind wraps instead of being open about it. I know I didn't as a speaker - no "censorship" (even the voluntary, self-inflicted kind) implied.

And yes, swords to gunfights are a bad idea. And yes, SEO starts with the "white hat" craft with "black hat" tricks constituting the "advanced" mode.

And yes again, for many if not most webmasters going "black hat" not only makes for an overkill, it may well be a health issue even: if you don't have the nerve for it, if you're not capable of mustering the consequences, if your own and your kids' sustenance depends on it, it's probably better to switch trades.

It's what I've always said about cloaking: it won't do you much good if you don't know SEO from scratch - it's a tool, yes, and a very powerful one, but it's certainly not a solution in and of itself. You can cloak your site to oblivion just as you can "white hat" optimize it to death. I for my part advise more people against doing it than otherwise.

On the other hand it's just as conceivable to reverse the didactic approach: starting off with automated "black hat" stuff, you'll be forced to go into fine tuning with "white hat" techniques sooner or later anyway, coninuously refining the process. Whether that qualifies for a viable conference format is another matter, of course. (IMV too it probably doesn't.)

We'll probably never know for sure what market share "black hat" techniques actually hold but it would be quite interesting if only to level the playing field.

And personally I'm fed up with all those "white hat" evangelists wildly advocating content spam and conning newcomers with their pretended moral superiority, while the only real difference between what they're doing and what the ordinary cloaker does is that it's visible, hum.

But that's another story, even though it does touch upon this thread's theme ...

Who's in the bar?

>If anyone is complaining that SES is only good for newbies, then they obviously haven't looked at who is in the bar.

Agreed goodroi...it's really about catching up with a few people who know what is going on. There are always plenty even at a smaller show like Toronto. A few choice discussions like the one you mentioned can make an entire show worth the trip. Answering those pressing questions that seldom get answered online and shaking hands and meeting those that you've done business with online are the definite perks.

As for the sessions, even one's I've attended a few times I generally get a few nice takeaways where something that is discussed sets the lightbulb off on something interesting.

>In the end, those that make the effort to jump in and introduce themselves, are usually the ones that leave feeling that the trip was more than worth it. Those that sit back and keep to themselves are usually the ones who leave feeling it was a waste of time.

Yep. While I'm not generally an extroverted person by nature, conferences have forced me to be, because I always know that the next conversation I have could be the "choice" one mentioned above. If you spend the time to find and meet a lot of folks that you respect online you will be pleasantly surprised with the discussions that occur in person.

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