Which SEO Conference should I go to

This post began as a comment on The 5 must go to UK SEO conferences in 2011, but the comment soon grew too large, so I decided to put it here.

Having spoke at a few of the conferences on the list and been to others, I quickly found out that each one is good for different things. Although, I don’t schlep to many conferences these days they can be great fun and a great way for a service provider to pick up a few clients.

The post covered a poll on the following UK conferences.

1) SES London – February 22nd – February 25th
2) Sascon – May 19th – 20th
3) ProSEO – TBC (October 2011)
4) Think Visibility – March 5th 2011
5) A4U Expo – October 2011 (TBC)
6) International Search Summit – May 2011 (TBC)
7) Ad-tech – 21st/22nd September
8) SMX London – 16th/17th May 2011

As a way of learning it can be very tasty, but don’t get too excited over presentations, which are mostly rehashed blog posts or a sales massage for the speakers services/product/. You can easily get the knowledge elsewhere and there are better ways to fill your knowledge sack at an seo conference.

If you are a business seeking to sup from the cup of secret SEO knowledge, use the conference to get a free consultation. As soon as the speakers finish rush the stage to grab the ear hole of the guru/expert/meister and lay down an ego smoothing bit of flattery, it’s amazing how well this works (especially with me). And then hit them with a specific problem you are having with your online marketing.

The thing is, the real seo knowledge hounds are not in it for the money, they love solving the problems and love being thrown a bone to chew on. Remember, a lot of these guys charge £150 plus an hour for their time and most are picky about taking on new clients, so whatever time you get with them is going to be worth the conference fee.

The next step is to find which watering hole the speakers are going to be sucking up the booze. You will find there are always a hard core of speakers hanging around and these guys love to chew the fat and give away the juice over a pint. You mean they don’t do it in their presentations? Of course they bloody don’t, do you really think an unpaid speaker is going to dish the goodies onto your lap all hot and sticky. They keep those tasty morsels for the guys who pay them £10k a month for SEO services.

Another thing to look out for when choosing a conference is that the most expensive is not usually the best. A lot of conference speakers are chosen by mutual arse scratching rather than their ability to wrap complex issues into a 10 min presentation and make it simple enough for someone who sells something like Chocolate Cheese online.

Another tip is to do research on the speakers and pick the ones that you really like and shoot them off an email saying you are looking forward to seeing them. Don’t try to get an hours worth of consultation for the price of a coffee (if you get the label of a cheapskate it wont disappear quickly), but think of it as laying the ground work for a longer term relationship. Just like in any industry the good service providers are constantly busy and so you need to sell yourself a bit to get them to take you on as a client.

Switching back to those of you who want to carve out a nook in the crowded SEO agency space, a conference is a great place to go to help develop your brand and sniff out who really knows their stuff. For networking I would recommend the smaller, Northern conferences. If you are a Brit you will get more out of the ones not dominated by the Americans. If you are an American it’s a great way to get a tax free trip to the UK.

The point being, if you network with the British rather than the Americans you are more likely to bond and see the people again, making it more likely that they will do you a solid. I remember sitting in front an SES London keynote panel and realising everyone one of the 5 speakers were American and then when going to break bread at the London SEO bash that night, seeing a bunch of our colonial cousins hunkered down having a private dinner. Wagons circled, natives shot on sight.
Meanwhile, at London SEO the party was in full swing and it was a great opportunity to network with people who live just down the road.

And lets face it, Americans are just British people with irony removed and lots of guns in the pick up truck (boy, you’re going to hell for that one). Hmmm, I seem to have been reading too much Jeremy Clarkson lately.

For business and for service providers, don’t get star struck. I realise some would like to stroke the hem of Rand Fishkins’ garment or feel the huge knowledge sack of Aaron Wall, but most of the uber gurus get quickly swept away in a messianic, Pythonesque crowd surge. Whilst others mutter, “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”.

And of course, a lot of these guys are popular because they are brilliant at SEO and marketing, it’s just a conference is not the best place to schmooze the uber guru.

So, back to the question, which seo conference should I go to? It’s really a question only you can answer as it depends on what you are after.

But to be honest, the best SEO conference to go to this year is the Cornwall SEO Conference of 2011 😉

18 thoughts on “Which SEO Conference should I go to”

  1. Lyndon,

    Would you post not be better titled “how to lose friends and alienate people”?

    Regardless of race, color, creed, sex anyone who has knowledge to impart is welcome to submit to speak at all SES conferences worldwide. I saw your post last year with its “the yanks are coming” anti-American overtones. And I have to tell you, you ar so wrong. For the past three years, UK speakers outnumber non UK speakers by a mile. Plus the London conference is programmed in partnership with leading UK industry players and in conjunction with leading UK business associations and institutions.

    And this year, not only will there not be five US panelists in front of anyone – there won’t be any panels with five people on them.

    We get tons of great feedback from attendees on how much they learn from presenters at SES. It’s total bull to say that presenters only regurgitate blog posts – and BTW we have zero tolerance for pitches at SES. One pitch and you’re out.

    I’ve been a speaker at SES for many years and I have never, ever seen US speakers huddled together and not mixing with other attendees. That is also complete bull. Speakers go out of their way to meet new people whether it’s networking for business or simply making new friends.

    For someone who doesn’t attend SES (or speak there to pass on your great southern England SEO wisdom which is so much greater than American SEO wisdom, apparently) I recommend that any reader of your post take it with the tiny grain of salt it’s hardly even worth.

    A totally biased view by someone completely out of touch with SES London.

    Mike Grehan.
    Global VP Content.
    SES Conference & Expo | Search Engine Watch | ClickZ

    1. Mike,

      I’m not quite sure what you mean by “totally biased view”. It’s my personal opinion of what I experienced. I assure you I have no axe to grind with SES.You’ve never caused me offence and I am not aligned with any other seo conference. I am simply a humble punter and offer my own opinions.

      As for being “completely out of touch with SES London”, again, not quite sure what you mean. I went to SES London and these are my personal thoughts on it.

      Not sure why the fact I live in Southern England has anything to do with it. If I lived in Swindon you may have a point.

      I absolutely expect people to take my humble blog post with a “tiny grain of salt”, it is merely my opinion and I certainly do not expect or present the post as being a definitive review of SES and it’s up to people to value the post as they will. The post is actually about all SEO conferences.

      However, it’s important to recognise that ALL opinion is valid, even mine. If you get so umpty about some tiny grain of salt type blog post which offers some mild criticism from Southern England, what happens when someone really has a go?

      As for presentations being rehashed blog posts, that’s how some of them come over, I don’t single SES out for this, I find the quality of most SEO conference presentations poor, but as I pointed out, this is only a part of the conference.

      If you are offended at the post, I can’t really do anything about that. I say it as I see it without the bullshit, and yes that may mean I “lose friends and alienate people”.

      So be it.

      I think,
      I write,
      I publish.

      If you cannot take the criticism, or for whatever reason think my opinion is not valid.

      Tough. I don’t blog to kiss arse.

      And yes voicing my opinions may lose me influence in certain quarters and maybe I don’t know how to play the game and I’m certainly not as powerful and connected as you are Mike. I have never been in the position of running a conference and am sure it is a gargantuan task, and I respect you for that. But that doesn’t change my view.

      And I am certainly not going to not post something simply because it offends.

      I don’t for one minute think that just because someone is American does not know as much SEO as me and in the post highlighted a couple of Americans who are quite brilliant. I have absolutely nothing against Americans, in fact my favourite Americans are indeed, American.

      I think those who are familiar with my blog know that I write in a certain tongue in cheek style, laden with irony. And I am as critical about myself as I am about anyone else.

      I know other UK SEOs’ have shared similar opinions to the ones I expressed but have out and out told me they wont say anything critical as they don’t want to rock the boat.

      Which is a shame, as you learn more from criticism than you do praise.

      But, I understand that there is game to be played and egos to be massaged to get what you want in this life and I have no problem with that fact and would advise anyone not to post what I posted if they want to speak at SES. And please do not bullshit and say that it does not matter, because you and I know that’s all that matters.

      Mike, I think you baited me into my longest reply ever.

      Congrats and thanks for stopping by.

  2. As someone who’s visited several SES New York conferences, I must add my voice here in support of Lyndon

    Some talks I’ve seen over multiple attendances at SES NY really were nothing but badly veiled self-promotional pitches, and some of these speakers did get to come back to another SES edition.

    Also, there is indeed something of a clique of speakers at SES conferences that is hard to break in to unless you’re particularly bold and unimpressed by people’s reputations.

    I have nothing against Ameri-… sorry, no, that’s not right. I have to admit I do have something against Americans as a whole. Yes I’m a prejudiced, biased bigot. I think that’s learned behaviour though, but I won’t get in to politics here. 🙂

  3. Being a Yank … Lyndon, I sort of take offense to your “wagons circled” paragraph up there about us.

    Point being, I’ve been at SES London for several years. Being a Yank, and all, I didn’t shoot anyone on sight (they wouldn’t let me bring a gun into the country anyway). That also noted, I don’t think there was one dinner or lunch, I ever attended at SES London where it was all “Yanks”. In fact many times, I was the only Yank. As for solid relationships, some of my most solid relationships in this industry are with people I’ve bonded with at SES London, so I don’t get that insinuation either. But, again, your opinion and you can make it as you wish.

    While I respect your opinion, I have to disagree with it on that part about “all the yanks”. Perhaps 5 years ago when it was out in Docklands you could have said that (even that’s a bit shakey) but SES London has really shifted course with speakers primarily being from UK or Western Europe.

    Perhaps taking a look at the speaker line up on the page would help you see how little many of us “Yanks” are there.

    Regardless of that, hope to see you there even just in passing.

    Hope you had a great holiday!

    ~Li 🙂

  4. @Li, that wagons circled comment was really tongue in cheek and simply something I saw. I am sure the same thing would happen if the situation was reversed.

    But it’s not.

    It’s not about one country or another, it’s simply about the set up how I saw it. And I know you wouldn’t want to not to push the publish button just because it causes offence. Absolutely no offence was intended as it was meant as a cheeky, tongue in cheek comment, but I realise my humour can be seen as a little cutting. But hey, that’s why you like me 😉

    And like I said to Mike, nowhere do I say not to go to SES or that it’s a pile of shit, like some say. It’s not meant to be a definitive up to date review. Lots of people get real value from ALL the conferences I mentioned.

    And I have to say, I am getting a lot of people who are pinging me saying they share the experience. But, if you don’t want Mike turning up on your blog giving it some, I guess you have to keep quiet.

    Me, I have no such qualms.

  5. There is a lot to be said about networking at conferences personally I don’t see any being different – you need to have the ability to network not be shy etc. – sometimes the smaller ones give easier access to the speakers but if you know that networking is the greatest walk away you can get then you can do so at any event and the bigger ones offer more people to connect with.

    More attendees as well as more speakers. Plus the larger ones offer diversity and a better chance of finding the two or three people who you fit with.

    Speakers use the events to network as well so you are going to see wagons circled as it were but they will make room on many occasions. Work the bars during the event – especially the night before the event starts – greatest day to connect because people are coming in at various times and will be looking to see who else is there – not just their friends but any attendees.

  6. TBH I dont recognise the issues you have had with SES, I have always found it a friendly and inclusive environment.

    I also recognise that they have done what they can to make it a mixed panel lineup both in the UK and the USA.

    Whenever I have spoken there or at any other conference I have always done what I can to spill the beans on all I know, often being told I have risked a bit by doing so.

    I agree that there is nothing worse than attending a session where the speaker is there for self promotion rather than to inform and entertain. But hey it all depends on your outlook on why you do these things.

  7. @Paul, it’s one view. I don’t expect it to be everyone’s it’s just one thing I noticed. I have a lot of British SEO chums who would have liked a chance at speaking at an even like that.

    Glad you spill the beans, and if I am there I will be listening with my notebook at the ready 😉

  8. As a Yank who has attended 2 SES London shows, I can say that, like Li, I’ve also been one of only a few Yanks in any group. In fact if my memory isn’t failing me, you spent a few hours at the London SEO a couple of years ago talking to me and to Jay. Did we make you feel excluded?

    I am not sure why it’s so acceptable to be so anti-American. If one of us Yanks was publicly bitching about how all Brits are this or that, we’d be screamed at for ages, whether it was meant in jest or not. I’ve never heard any Americans go on about something like this but I’ve heard a lot of it from non-Americans. Just because you don’t like our politics (and god knows neither do I usually) doesn’t mean that we should all be viewed so negatively.

    Feeling unwelcome sometimes is simply down to your own insecurity and nothing to do with the people around you. I have never, ever felt excluded by anyone in the industry in any way. There have been people who intimidated me, of course, but I chalk that up to a problem with me, not them.

  9. @Julie, I am not at all anti-American and I also didn’t feel excluded. I simply commented on the fact I saw one group not mixing in, where I indicate that you should extrapolate this to mean all Americans I’m not really sure.

    I didn’t feel unwelcome, I just would have preferred the conference to have more of my British speaking than Americans, I really don’t know why that is such a terrible thing. It’s nothing to do with politics, it’s about business. I tend to do business with British people more than I do American. Why this makes me anti-American Gawd only knows.

    I prefer to network with British people more on a business level because that is where my business is. It doesn’t mean I have a pathological hatred of Americans, far from it.

    It’s not acceptable to be anti-American, which is why I’m not.

    Who knows why lots of people are anti-American? I guess you will have to ask them.

    It doesn’t matter what nation it is, if it were a bunch of Armenians crowding out the platform I would be saying, maybe next time go easy on the Armenian quota.

    I’m sorry you feel like this Julie, but I really think you are getting the wrong end of the stick and being a bit over sensitive.

    I make no apologies for sticking up for the SEO talent of my country. I want the brilliant SEO guys and girls I meet in the UK to get more of a chance at speaking at a major conference and not be at a disadvantage because they don’t know the right people or know how to network effectively.

    Such thinking is not anti-American, it’s common sense. Are you saying the UK does not have enough talent to put on a decent conference and we have to import to make up the numbers. I don’t think so at all. So when I go to a conference and notice the unusually large amount of Non British people who fill up the place, I find it odd and it sticks out.

    It simply makes me wish there were more British speaking as it makes more business sense to go to a conference in my own country where people come from that country.

    The length of my reply shouldn’t indicate this is a big deal as it’s not. But I absolutely hate it when someone calls me anti when I am not.

  10. Actually I was referring to Barry with the anti-American thing which seems ok as he’s admitting it. I do think that the post comes off as a bit…unfriendly towards us. As Mike Grehan says it’s not the first time you’ve expressed views that have seemed that way. If you’re not…then good, and I take you at your word. Hell, I don’t like a lot of us either.

  11. @Julie. Yes it’s true. I have form that I prefer a British conference to have more British speakers than American. I do not see anything wrong with that.

    I also don’t see why it’s somehow wrong to express that opinion more than once.

    A British speaker is more likely to bond and network than a foreigner who is just along for a tourist trip against tax. Does that mean that all Americans are like that, of course not. You are certainly not.

    Are some Americans who come over to speak act like tourists and prefer to see Buckingham Palace than break bread with the locals? Of course there are, and I would rather see a native in their place.

    Does that make me evil?

  12. Yes very very evil. Ha! No of course not. As someone with no desire to speak at a conference I imagine I am not clued in at all to how things work. I do understand the point of wanting to be able to regularly interact with the people you meet, and considering the difficulty we sometimes face in having clients thousands of miles from our office, I definitely see how that can make a difference. It would indeed be nice to have a client I could actually visit without flying across the Atlantic. Luckily now that I have Rob Kerry just a bit down the road, I’m better…for SEO bonding at least. Now I just need to get to a ThinkVis!!

  13. @julie
    If possible please do not come to a Thinkvis as you would end up thinking far less of me as a result….

    @everyone else – I think we are all done here now aren’t we – everything is cleared up and we can go back to defcon 5 in the US sense or as our British government would call it ‘beige alert’

  14. @Paul, Anyone who gets up in front of a crowd of their peers to share their thoughts has my respect. I don’t think anyone would think less of you after seeing you speak.

    @Dom, What a refreshingly British way to be invited to an SEO conference. I had retired from going to conferences, but I haven’t been to Think Visibility and I constantly hear good things about it from trusted sources.

    I will seriously think about it.

    And how can I slag it off if I have never been to it 😉

    @Pashmina, I’ve never been to a US conference so can’t give you a personal opinion. But, most of them seem very well run and you will probably learn tons going to just one. I would advise going to the smaller ones, like Chicago or New York rather than the massive ones, as it’s easier to network.

    I also think going to a conference in the middle of nowhere helps because the attendees are forced to stay in the Hotel/venue and mingle. Ed Dale made a great choice by having his conference at Heathrow, unless you are a plane spotter you probably wont bugger off to see the sites.

    London SMX in the past has been held slap bang in the middle West End of London, which for a boy like me living in the Wilds of rural Cornwall makes it a real distraction when trying to hang with SEO peeps, which of course is great, but when I should be chatting about RSS feeds and title tags I’m spending the day in the book shops of Charing Cross Road and feasting on noodles at Wagamamas.

    A4U have the right idea by sticking it in the wasteland that is the Docklands, forcing attendees together and in reality making it a better conference.

    But ultimately, the choice of conference that will be best for you depends on what you need and what your goals are. I highly recommend going to one if you have no problem talking to strangers and even if you do it can still be worth it.

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