I talked to a friend of mine a few months back to ask if he would be going to SMX Advanced again this year.  He’s a frequent person on the search industry conference tour, so I kind of expected that he would naturally be heading to Seattle for this year’s conference.

So I was kind of surprised when he said he was skipping it that year.  When I asked him why, he said that SMX advanced just wasn’t the same and other conferences, the layout of the conference center – though obviously no fault of SMX – really sucked for attendees. It was spread out so you can easily attend the PPC track and not see a single soul on the other side of the conference center who might’ve been attending SEO track.  Oh, and it’s a conference center with huge pillars right in the middle of the room.

He also said that the content just wasn’t new. He noticed the past couple year’s conferences had been a slightly freshened up version of the previous years and he felt he just wasn’t getting the dollar value out of it anymore to pay to attend.  He was still considering attending, but only because Matt Cutts is doing a session. If it wasn’t for that he told me he wouldn’t even consider going again. And that is someone who had been to most, if not all, previous SMX Advance conferences.

Now this isn’t just to pick on SMX, this applies to many conferences in this industry.  It just so happens that SMX Advanced was the most recent search conference, and the conference I happened to be discussing with this shall-remain-nameless person.

Now, part of what he said is correct. The Matt Cutts’ room with the shape and the pillars sucks ass.  But again, you can’t really fault Danny Sullivan and SMX for that, other than perhaps changing to a better venue. But the content freshness, I definitely see what he’s getting at.  You can easily play a name that conference trivia game by giving the session title and you have to guess if it’s SMX, SES or PubCon.  And it unfortunately isn’t that unusual to see someone at SMX with slides referencing SES, or worse, the guy who presented at SMX to re-used the same deck from SES, complete with the SES branded PowerPoint template. Likewise, there have been people at SES who have obviously reused decks because the examples will be Search Engine Land instead of Search Engine Watch.  And rinse and repeat at Pubcon.

So why are conferences getting stale? Is a tried-and-true thing? Is it laziness? Do they just assume they will sell tickets because that’s what they do?  Are they listening too much to what speakers want to talk about and not enough to what paying attendees want to hear? Or are they just plain and simply not evolving with the times?

Looking at the SMX Advanced agendas for the last couple years show the lot of the same old thing. A Danny Sullivan has added a few new sessions, this year was the first time I can recall him finally adding a content session, unusual for him because it’s not straight search, and they added a retargeting session which is very hot at the moment. So good on him, because content is worth its weight in gold at the moment, and everyone and their Grandma is talking about retargeting.

And thank God he finally took out that tired “Pagination & Canonicalization for the Pros” session this year. I mean, how many times can we beat the dead horse at SMX?  All the information is available straight from Google, and Google is a lot better at sorting these issues out on their own than they were years ago when Danny brought out this session.  However, in its place is the “Crazy, Complicated Technical Issues That Completely Sabotage the Best SEO Efforts,” but at least this time they try to disguise that dead horse with sheep’s clothing.  But there were many sessions that were either identical from the previous year, with the same speakers or dealt with the 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 SMX.

Onto SES, looking at SES San Francisco (although it is not until later this year, so it could change). It was interesting to notice that SES featured a retargeting session a year ago, so they were definitely on top of what was going to be hot.  They definitely have more variety in their sessions, but then again, it is a 5 track conference versus SMX 3 panels (plus sponsor track), and SES’s 3 days versus SMX’s 2 days.  As for speakers, the only have a handful speakers listed on their agenda so far, but I imagine it will be a mix of the usual industry speakers with some new faces.

So maybe part of the problem with SMX not changing that much from year to year is the fact that it is so small and can only offer 21 sessions total to choose from.  How much different would be if it could expand to three days and five tracks, or we just see the dreaded canonicalization horse once again.  And with three  tracks, I know there were times when I’d look at the options and choose something that was hopefully worth tweeting about, if I wasn’t personally interested in it.

As for Pubcon, they haven’t released their agenda got for this year’s conference, but considering the crazy number of sessions they had last year (I think it is more than SES & SMX have combined in a year!) I expect there will definitely be some overlap on the sessions they have this year as well.  But unlike SMX, at Pubcon’s usual 7 tracks, odds are good that at least one of the 7 at any given time would be worthy for each person to attend.

Maybe it’s time that conferences began looking at different ways to come up with session ideas. It’s all wonderful to accept session pitches from speakers for session ideas, but remember those people have an agenda about why they want to do that particular session, most likely because they want to bring in clients for that particular area. Bring it back to the attendees instead. Why not ask for suggestions from the actual attendees on sessions they would like to see, complete with what the session description would be, rather than asking potential speakers to do it.  Speaker audience and paying audience are two different animals J  Who knows, maybe canonicalization is the session attendees want back (although personally, I probably would have chosen the session on watching paint dry over canonicalization), or then again, they might just want to see it die in a fire like me.

And yes, I know someone can argue that people go to conferences for the sessions they go there for the networking and the bar conversations. But when people are shelling out two grand or so for a ticket, you definitely want to get value out of that, even if you are sitting in the session room nursing a hangover with Red Bull while refreshing #whicheverconference onTwitter.

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.

4 thoughts on “Do search conferences need a wakeup call from paying attendees?”
  1. Truth is, nobody cares about SEO anymore. Wasn’t it you who numerous times commented on the death of SEO and how it will play out? Maybe in 2005, SEO was somewhat important but these days, I find customer retention at the top of the list. Retaining a customer who found you through Google search or Adwords is much harder than retaining a customer who found you through social circles.

    The paradigm shift is more than evident, people would rather do business with someone local than some anonymous person in India. In those cases, Google search is irrelevant, even more irrelevant is attending boring conferences, listening to long winded presentations from self-appointed “experts” who profit from common knowledge and grandstand for pseudo-celebrity status when in reality, they’re nothing but regurgitation of already public knowledge.

  2. I guess the industry shouldn’t take this aspect lightly as the conferences are really important for its growth. As far as the attendees payment is concerned no need to worry as far as the short term payday loan agencies are available if it doesn’t fall into budget.

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