Why I’m Kind of Over Search Conferences

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.