Ah, the search engine conference.  The way to mingle with Googlers, industry experts and bloggers, all while learning, tweeting, networking, and yes, gossiping about all things SEO over a few (okay, more than a few in many of your cases!) beers in the bar.  In terms of the large search conferences, there are only three that matter – Search Engine Strategies, Search Marketing Expo, and Pubcon.  And this year, more so than any year previous, has seen a real shift in how each show is presenting itself, a big change from the cookie cutter format all three have been doing before – you know, the tried and true 4 speakers and a moderator on every panel, with a few token “solo presentations” thrown in once or twice for good measure.

And tried and true isn’t a bad thing, although I know those who run the conferences will argue about the value of shaking things up.  But some of the ways conferences have been leaning recently just make me go WTF and really makes me wonder who is benefitting, because it is looking less and less like the attendees.

Search Marketing Expo has a lot of the same speakers speaking on multiple sessions.  Search Engine Strategies is trending towards many more solo sessions or sessions with just two people.  And PubCon, well with nine tracks (yes, you read that right, NINE tracks) is there anyone in the industry who can’t claim they have a speaking spot there if they want it?  Even including those with dubious credibility in the industry.

Let’s start with Pubcon.  Holy tracks.  I am not even sure what to say about a conference that has nine tracks and how someone can even get value out of that, aside from the conference being able to boast it has the highest number of “experts” at any conference.  It seems half the speakers this year are either unknowns or from speakers who you suspect will really be more pitchy than providing actionable information – after all, there are way more speakers here versus the number of people I would consider experts in the industry.  But Pubcon is Pubcon and who can resist a booze filled week that can be written off as a business expense? So it does draw a crowd – and that crowd will include over 200 speakers alone, and since it is months away still, that number can be expected to grow (but notable exception?  Matt Cutts is MIA from the lineup, although maybe PubCon hopes to slide him into one of the as-yet-unnamed keynote speaker slots).

Pubcon has always marketed itself saying that most of the good stuff happens at bars, but that is 140 sessions on the grid over 3 days, you can’t help but think that some of the sessions could be consolidated to give more value to both the speakers and the attendees.  Once you take into account the lure of the casinos, the inevitable hangovers that will keep people in bed past noon, how many of those sessions will have just a handful of people in the room.  However, while they are giving out nearly 200k in comp passes to speakers, I suspect many of those would have only sprung for the expo hall or networking pass only if they had to shell it out themselves, so there probably is a lot of value since some of those speakers will attend sessions and probably tweet or blog about .

And SMX is a repeat of the same old speakers  – not that it is a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, mind you, just a lot of repetition.  There are some really kick ass people who speak at SMX (and are most often at SES and/or PubCon too).  But at SMX West, Rhea Drysdale (@rhea), from the always notable Outspoken Media, spoke on multiple panels and moderated a couple more.  Brad Geddes  (@bgtheory), who is THE AdWords expert, also racked up a few panels as well.    As did Shari Thurow (@sharithurow), Christine Churchill (@keyrelevance) and probably some others I didn’t notice while looking at it recently when seeing what the SMX East speaker line up looked like (which wasn’t yet published).

And Search Engine Strategies is going in the complete opposite of what PubCon is doing, seeming to knock down their speaker numbers dramatically, according to an email many speaker pitchers received recently, stating that attendees want a more indepth look from one or two speakers rather than the tried but true method of 4 speakers per panel.  It’s very true that attendees could get a better in depth look at some of the topics, but you have to wonder if that was influenced by poor or sales pitchy speakers.

And by dropping down the number of speakers so dramatically (most sessions for SES San Francisco only have 1-2 speakers, which is in line with the email received by those who pitched) attendees are also missing the draw that added industry known speakers bring to the table, namely the ability for attendees to hobknob with those they read and admire in the industry.  Many speakers do not attend conferences they do not get a comp pass for, and it would be a definite loss to SES if those well known “industry celebrity” types were not there for attendees to get the opportunity to talk to.  As a potential attendee picking a search conference to attend, it looks pretty slim pickings if I am wanting to network with those celebs, and networking in general is a huge benefit of attending a conference in person rather than just doing webinars or reading blogs and forums.  It is an expensive conference, let alone if you remove a good percentage of the industry experts from the attendee pool.  And from a brand new potential speaker perspective, then has the unfortunate side effect that up-and-coming experts will have to look at the less popular SES shows, or choose SMX or Pubcon instead.

What’s going to be the method that works?  Well, I can’t see SMX ever switching from their “let’s put these same favorite people of ours on as many panels as we possibly can, then fill in whatever we can’t fill with those we love” that they have been doing since they launched.  Because, as we all know, Danny is a celeb in the industry and has to keep those favorite people happy.  And to be honest, PubCon could fill all their speaker slots with the entire collections of Smurfs and My Little Ponys because, well, people don’t attend to go to the sessions, they are there to talk to the experts.  As for SES, I do think SES might be making a mistake on their new strategy, basing it on the newbies who are the few who actually fill out the speaker surveys (aside from those of you I know are giving yourself top scores for your own presentations!)

By seobitch

Seobitch is a pen name for a well known female expert in the SEO industry that most of you likely already follow. She has more than a dozen years experience and is a very respected expert in the field. Seobitch can be controversial but writes about issues that most people are afraid to talk about due to their employers, clients or friends. She also loves to tackle industry issues from a different point of view than what you normally see the "complainers" of the industry complaining about. She is also open to suggestions for future topics you would like to see the SEObitch tackle.

5 thoughts on “Why 2012 is a Sucky Year For Search Conference Attendees”
  1. I have never been to these conferences but follow the above mentioned three on Twitter. I like what I hear on Twitter and will attend some next year. But I agree that there are a lot of repetitions.

  2. […] same content but with an updated session title.  And the speakers as a whole?  Same old thing of all Danny’s favorite people, but that is what we expect at […]

  3. Do search conferences need a wakeup call from paying attendees? | #1 Source for OL Marketing Info. says:

    […] same content but with an updated session title.  And the speakers as a whole?  Same old thing of all Danny’s favorite people, but that is what we expect at […]

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