Why I’m Kind of Over Search Conferences

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Not too long ago, Shoe wrote a post explaining why he quit going to SEO events. Around the same time that post was published, I made a brief appearance at SMX Advanced to wander around the Expo Hall and sneak into a couple of sessions. That was the last conference I’ve gone to, and it was the first one I’d been to since the Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas last winter. Even though Pubcon wrapped up last week, I was sitting comfortably at home working instead of drenching my red eyes with Visine and coughing the dry Nevada air out of my lungs. I still travel about once a month (I fly to Denver for work), but my schedule has been SEO-event free since Advanced, and I gotta say that I don’t really miss them.

I’ve been to tons of SEO and search conferences since I started doing Internet marketing in 2006, and at first they were really awesome and exciting. You can’t beat traveling on the company dime and staying up until 6 am making friends and knocking back drinks. It took a while for the luster to wear off, but when it does, you’ll discover that there are any number of things you’d rather do than climb aboard a plane, pull a lanyard over your head, and pretend that the same crap you’ve heard at the last 15 conferences is new and exciting.

Below are the main reasons why I’m tired of going to SEO conferences:

Competition for Business is Fierce

If you’re going to a search conference as a beginner and want to learn about SEO and meet new people, I think there’s definitely value in attending once or twice. If, however, you’re an agency whose goal is to land new business, your level of success is more difficult. Search conferences are monopolized by search companies and Internet marketers. Not many of these people are looking to hire someone who does the exact same thing they do (unless you’re looking to jump ship to another company). Finding a company who needs consulting is like trying to find a gay bar in the Bible Belt.

The few companies who are looking to hire a consultant or contractor to help them with Internet marketing have their pick of the crop because the place is so oversaturated with folks who want to do business with them. Competition is stiff, and it’s hard to fly home having landed some business that justifies the conference and travel expenses. A lot of my colleagues have told me that they’re much more successful landing new clients at non-search conferences because there’s much less competition and because a lot of the attendees are far less knowledgeable about the benefits of SEO, SEM and SMM, making it a much easier sell.

Obviously, if you specialize in creating Internet marketing tools and consultants/agencies are your customers, it makes sense to attend search conferences and try to sell to the appropriate audience. However, if you’re a consultant or company looking for clients, you may want to re-think the ROI of attending numerous conferences each year, especially if you’re traveling with a bunch of coworkers and bringing back little to no business.

The Content is Almost Always the Same

Most search conferences seem to have a duplicate content problem of their own, offering virtually identical session schedules that cover the same stuff you’ve seen at the last event. There’s really only so many times you can make title tags, keyword research, and the basics of paid search sound innovating and fresh. You could argue that most people who attend multiple conferences year after year probably aren’t going for the sessions since they should know most of the stuff that’s being covered. This is true, but what the hell else are you going to do during the day? You may have meetings with existing clients or choose to sleep off that hangover, or maybe you’re hanging out with your buddies in the speaker’s lounge, but most of the people you want to connect with, whether it’s potential business (however small) or new colleagues, have their butts in those session seats. You end up begrudgingly wading into the deep end and treading water with a thousand other people as a speaker panel drones on about something you’ve already heard a dozen times in the past year.

Even the parties start to get boring after a while. It’s the same venue year after year, and you run into the same people (especially if you’re one of the cool kids who gets invited to an “exclusive” event that most of the other conference goers aren’t allowed to attend), making it difficult to make new contacts and network efficiently. Which leads me to my next point…

You Start to Know Everyone There

After a while, you run into the same people over and over again. Granted, I’ve made a lot of friends in this industry and I enjoy seeing them at various events, but when you hang out with the same folks all the time, you’re missing out on opportunities to get to know people who can be valuable to your business. Sometimes the people you know may hook you up with a contact or can float a contract your way, but this is something that can easily be done over the phone or via email since you’ve already built them as a point of contact. It’s easy to fall into that comfort zone and hang out with the people you know and recognize, but after a while, gravitating towards familiar faces isn’t going to help your business as much as putting yourself in completely new situations where you don’t know anyone and have to build your network anew.

A Lot of the Speakers Suck Balls

I’m tired of seeing the same shitty speakers at 15 different SEO conferences throughout the year. People who aren’t qualified to speak at conferences are somehow getting multiple panel spots year after year, which makes me start to wonder about the quality of the show. They’ll either recycle the same presentation over and over again, or you’ll see someone who has no business calling him/herself an expert on a particular topic inexplicably giving a 20 minute presentation on it. In Lisa Barone’s recent post about how to fix SEO’s reputation problem, I mentioned in the comments that better, more legitimate and qualified speakers need to be chosen for conferences. Someone responded to my comment and said that he was looking at a conference agenda and saw someone listed as doing a presentation on Twitter, yet that person hadn’t tweeted from his/her Twitter account since April 2009. Come on, really? How hard is it for organizers to do at least a little bit of research to see if the person who’s presenting to a giant paying audience is at least remotely qualified to speak?

My last few points don’t have as much to do about SEO so much as conferences in general, but nonetheless, here they are:

It’s Hard to Catch Up on Work

When you’re traveling all the time from one conference to the next, your workload starts to pile up pretty quickly. When you’re at a conference, you’re either listening to speakers all day, attending meetings, or networking. Your entire schedule gets thrown out of whack — you’re barely getting any sleep or exercise and you’re running around all day and night. By the time you get home, you’ve undoubtedly got a bunch of calls to field, a stack of emails to answer, and a list of tasks that have gotten backlogged. The more you travel, the more you get caught in this cycle and the less you actually seem to get done.

You Miss Your Family

Obviously, if you’re single and lovin’ the traveling life, this won’t bug you. But a lot of people have spouses or significant others or kids to get home to, and the more you travel, the less you get to see them. You don’t end up calling as much as you promise to, and eventually the stress of being gone all the time can take its toll on your relationships. Nobody wants to be that Cats in the Cradle dad, so if you can skip a few repetitive search conferences that probably won’t benefit your business much (if at all), you’d sit them out so you can have some sanity at home for a little while.

Air Travel Has Gotten Ridiculous

With TSA regulations getting more and more exasperating, flying has become more of a hassle than ever before. Not only do you have to put up with the standard “take your shoes off, laptop out, 3 oz liquids in a baggie” nonsense, but now you could be unlucky enough to get picked for a “random” screening where you either have to stroll through a potentially canceriffic and invasive body scanner or be subjected to a handsy and uncomfortable pat down. Refusing to get x-rayed or groped means you don’t get to fly and could face a bullshit $10,000 fine. How many times are you willijng to put up with this crap just so you can collect that umpteenth tote bag and grab another 50 business cards?

Now, there are some exceptions to some of the conferences I’ve been to recently. I quite enjoyed the Affiliate Summit, and, of course, Shoe’s Elite Retreat was exceptionally valuable and comes highly recommended. However, when it comes to trudging through yet another search conference or staying home in my sweats and working with my favorite music blasting through the speakers, right now I’d pick Option #2 without hesitation.

About Rebecca Kelley

Rebecca Kelley is the Director of Marketing for This or That Media. She also runs Mediocre Athlete, a hobby blog about exercising and training, and My Korean Mom, a blog about her harsh but amusing Korean mother. In her spare time, Rebecca is a freelance blogger for hire, loves food and movies, and trains for marathons and triathlons.

96 thoughts on “Why I’m Kind of Over Search Conferences

  1. Maldini

    We cannot refuse that SEO is very important in the online world today. It is very necessary if we want to do the business online.

    Anyway, the keep your site are in the top quality with the quality content, look and feel are also able to help your site growth very fast.

    Thanks for your article. Keep going on your work :))

    1. TomYoon

      I subscribe to the fact that SEO, SEM and SMM pay crucial roles in the web marketing playing field. Nonetheless, knowing a thing or two about them doesn’t automatically qualify you as an expert (or should be designated as a speaker). What’s your two cent’ worth on this, Rebecca?

      1. Get That Ball

        I’ve been to conferences where most of the speakers were self-proclaimed gurus. Nothing much to back up their claims to fame.

    2. F2Xsites

      SEO often provides more value for your money than PPC. I don’t think that would change anytime soon.

    3. WhateverWorks

      Tell me about it. I had my website’s searchability analyzed recently. The scorecard clearly showed that it was performing poorly in terms on search engine rankings.

  2. DiscoStu

    I concur. After coming back from PubCon I decided that this will be my last seo conference. It’s 90% fluff/repetition

      1. The American Dream

        Oddly, I still can’t get over the way you used “gay bar” and “stiff competition” in consecutive paragraphs. All in all, this is one awesome post, Rebecca!

  3. David

    A thoughtful piece, I completely agree with you. Most of the information you can find on the interweb anyway.

    p.s. there are a few gay bars in the bible belt south, you have to know how to find them.

    cheers keep up the good work

    1. Cristina Dy

      Family comes first in my book and this is definitely one of the most meaningful posts I’ve come across today. Kudos, Rebecca. (Wanna cruise around the Bible Belt to look for “special” bars?)

      1. smstudent

        Isaiah 5:22 – Woe to “champion” drinkers and “experts” at mixing drinks. (Whoa! Was there an earlier Prohibition? Check this out!)

        1. thoushallpass

          All this talk about alcohol makes me thirsty! Why not meet at Club Orange for a round of Manhattans? Like, right now? :)

  4. Ajaero Tony Martins

    I think the term “SEO” has become an online demi god. Online business seek it out, study it like the bible and even worship it; all in a bid to get its blessing. Believe it or not, seo sucks but it still remain the number one key to becoming an authority online. Without a good seo ranking, your online business is as good as dead.

    1. WhoisDoyle

      Some say it’s the lifeblood of Internet marketing. I’m not so sure about that but one thing’s for sure, it generates more traffic and can convert readers to customers.

      1. H delacruz

        And the great SEM move of all? Transforming occasional browsers to loyal readers. Loyal readers to occasional customers to occasional customers to having a close relationship with your market base.

        1. PattyT12

          Most newbie web marketers expect that just because social marketing is the next big thing these days, they forget about the basics of keeping their target market close at hand just like marketing offline. Make your audience/customers feel like a million bucks and you’ve got a customer for life. Feel free to comment on this, Rebecca. :)

          1. Rebecca Kelley Post author

            I agree. The cool bandwagon thing to do now is to focus entirely on social media and become an “expert” without first taking care of core marketing and business issues/strategies.

        2. Susan Armand

          Now that’s one thing that is all-encompassing in terms of applicability. Whether you’re engaged in business or just nurturing a relationship, making a person feel like a million dollars sure makes a world of difference.

    2. newmediaist12

      You know what makes SEO suck? There’s always a new expert — who almost always doesn’t know what is really going on — every single time you join a big event. What gives?

  5. IMJS.com

    “A lot of the speakers suck balls.” — Well, that’s reason enough for me to stay home. You can stay home and watch people do that on the internet for free. 😉

    1. Melanie Johnson

      I rarely attend conferences or industry gatherings unless it’s absolutely necessary for me to be there. I prefer exploring other learning or networking opportunities.

      1. medomoc

        Is it just me or does anybody else think that an excerpt of this post should be included with every invitation to join a web marketing conference? What do you think, Shoe?

        1. Marnie Sho

          So here’s the buzz, you may not have original seminars and conferences anymore but as long as you keep your fans engaged, then it’s a different story. Best wishes from Georgia.

    2. enajyram00

      I usually attend webinars or read the resources I’ve collected. It’s a lot more cost-effective.

      1. Robin Sterling

        I have been very active in participating in various web events a couple of years back since I thought every conference or webinar will yield a new learning or two. Guess I was wrong and hoped I could have at last used the cash I squandered to help get my online gig off the ground.

        1. veronica_sm

          Got them all covered, brother. Hey, is it true John Chow is giving away a slot for ER7? Kindly respond. Thanks a million.

    3. Susan Armand

      It’s alright to have a topic or two getting “re-covered,” if there ever was such a thing. The only key to making people still follow you after all the dust has settled is your dedication to look for new ways on how to do what you really love. Look at Shoe for example, why do you think there are still lots of people following him after all these years?

    4. Paul

      Others are just pretending that they know everything. When the real deal is that they dont even know how to make the REAL THING.

  6. MontyBucks

    Agreed. Most of the info you get at these “conferences” can be found in any number of online marketing forums anyway.

    Might as well stay in the comfort of your own home!

    1. Jim Petersen

      I’ve had some bad experiences in airports during some of my recent trips. Airport security people’s level of paranoia is unbelievable. I didn’t realize that refusing to pass through a backscatter x-ray machine can be so troublesome.

      1. Rebecca Kelley Post author

        It’s gotten really ridiculous and is something that’s been pissing me off for a while now. I don’t want to go through this insane hassle every time I fly — they treat everyone like a criminal nowadays.

    2. Jona712

      Now you know why I choose to check out Shoe’s blog everyday instead of spending a lot of bucks joining an overrated conference which most likely will only involve recycled topics and so-called formulas.

        1. Laney Pitt

          There are no existing original webinars these days. It’s either you end up with fluff or just something the organizers hustled from the last activity they participated in. Kinda reminds you of control c and control v suddenly.

    3. GQmeansGeek

      Yeah. There are better things to do than spend a day or two in conferences that don’t have anything new to offer anyway.

    4. Bryan Jake T

      I usually try to attend at least one big event or conference each year. Mostly to catch up on latest trends and hang out with friends.

  7. Nikki Stewart

    I’ve only attended a couple of such events. The novelty soon after. I felt that it wasn’t worth all the time I spend away from my two kids.

    1. KrisM77

      Sipping Riesling while curled up on the sofa. Watching my son pet the dog. My wife whipping me up a batch of home-made waffles. Knowing I can take off my shirt anytime without having inhibitions. Isn’t home awesome? :)

  8. Iambetterthanu

    The last time I went to a session was at SES. When the speaker pulled up my landing pages as an example with our requesting permission two things happened. 1. Realized this wont teach me anything. 2. Now every idiot is going to steal my landing page.

  9. New Bee

    Great post! I haven’t been to any conference yet. The Affiliate Summit in January would be my first industry event. I’m glad it’s one of the exceptions you’ve mentioned.

    1. moolahmachine

      Been there. Done that. Blew a lot of cash. Don’t care any more. Staying as a Shoemoney fan instead. WIN?

      1. twitteraddict05

        Definitely re-tweeting this. (By the way, why not Rebecca speak at the next blogger seminar?) Online poll time!

      1. Tammyexperiments

        Got nothing smart to add. I just want to reiterate something Rebecca said: “Most search conferences seem to have a duplicate content problem of their own, offering virtually identical session schedules that cover the same stuff you’ve seen at the last event. There’s really only so many times you can make title tags, keyword research, and the basics of paid search sound innovating and fresh.”

  10. AnnieP78

    The few conferences I’ve attended proved useful when I was starting out. But now, I don’t go to events anymore. I’d much rather spend my time and resources in growing my business.

    1. Husher50

      There are tons of free resources available online. I don’t see the point of spending much on conferences that don’t have anything much to offer.

    2. Bputitout / Putitoutthere

      Just as Rebecca said, attending once or twice is enough to get the gist of what SEO and SMM are all about. Join more than that and you’ll start realizing that you’re slowly driving your finances down to the ground.

  11. WilmaP

    Honestly, I’ve decided that I will be going rogue in terms of participating in seminars and conferences ever since I attended this crappy event somewhere in San Diego.

    1. TheSandMan5050

      I’ve never been a big fan of conferences. The ones I’ve been to didn’t live up to the hype.

      1. Nicole Burns

        I haven’t had much complaints so far. I learned what I needed to learn from most of the workshops and conferences I’ve attended.

  12. WanderingMommy

    I’d rather stay at home and watch reruns of Spongebob with my boys instead of listening to some so-called SEM expert who doesn’t really know anything while charging you a hundred bucks per pop.

  13. Yes2Freebies

    I once had to sit through an hour of talk given by someone who was obviously not as knowledgeable about the topic as we were led to believe. After that experience, I’ve learned to do some research on speakers’ qualifications before I sign up for a conference.

      1. thoushallpass

        Isn’t that suppose to be the case? No offense meant but I think you should brush up on your research skills…or be prepared to get conned over and over again.

  14. d0x

    Wait, isn’t the whole point of attending any kind of conference to incessantly tweet about how you are at said conference and anyone who isn’t there is clearly missing out on a great opportunity to do the same?

  15. Grey's Anatomy Scrubs

    Hear. Hear. Beginners will find these seminars or conferences enjoyable and useful. But attending the same kind of event is definitely a waste of time since most of the speakers are giving similar lectures. So, instead of attending, start working and apply what you have learned from this seminars.

    1. Feeding Frenzy

      True. Ideas aren’t worth anything without execution. It’s hard to set things up when you’re mostly out attending conferences.

  16. MVZP_01

    I can’t remember the last hassle-free airport experience I’ve had. I feel sorry for that guy who got a 10 grand fine for the most stupid reasons.

  17. Retroscifigeek

    The conventional wisdom is that if you write good content than you won’t need SEO. I don’t think I have used any SEO on my site whatsoever but I could be wrong. My site is only a month old and I have almost 3000 pageviews for that month. I am using social media so I am getting help somewhere. My biggest traffic comes from Reddit. I get next to nothing from Digg, and Google is picking up. Other than that I don’t think SEO is as important as everyone says it is.

  18. Brian P

    Like they say SEO is not rocket science. Anyone can learn it and very quick and easy.

    So I can see those getting boring just like college parties after a couple of years. You want something new and exciting.

    I have never been to any kind of conferences because they seem to be more on the west coast or just to much money to be worth my time. But I def want to go one day.

  19. Vee Sweeney

    I guess my question would be…why would you go to several conferences about the same thing? Unless the game has drastically changed or there is someone there that you have not seen speak or present before, I see no sense in going to more than one conference per year regarding SEO. True, if working for a company, it would be hard to deny a free trip or a few days out of the office. I completely agree though that going to conference after conference gets redundant and is a waste of time and money. Time would better be spent on working.

  20. Alexis

    I would say learning SEO has revolutionised and changed my online business for ever.
    It’s paramount for an internet marketer to know how search engines work. I’m now able to find profitables keywords and can rank for them in a short period of time using.
    But SEO is not an exact science as no one can really predict what will happen.

  21. Sockmoney

    This was my first year skipping Pubcon. My reason: Bored of the same crap year after year.

    You hit the nail on the head with this post. I got so sick of listening to panel speakers mislead and misguide audiences with bad advice that was based solely on their opinions.

    I admit the first few times was fun, exciting and I tried to convince myself educational. Yet year after year I’d come home with a notepad almost empty and the few morsels of new ideas I did get I never implemented because they were just crap I was grasping at during the conference to write down since I didn’t want a blank notebook.

    Nice post. 😉

  22. Rick Hendershot

    I think you’re just getting older and wiser. I must admit coming to this SEO thing fairly “late in life” the idea of attending a conference and schmoozing with slick know-it-alls has never appealed to me. Bin der done dat in a previous life.

  23. mayline olidan

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