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BACK TO BASICS: SMX West 2012 Highlights and Post-Show Analysis

by Virginia Nussey, March 20, 2012

Estimated reading time:
5 minutes

Top takeaways:
• Get insight into the popular conversations had at SMX West this year from Bruce Clay, Inc.'s perspective.
• Only in the third month of 2012, Google has already made more than 40 changes to its search results. 
• If you're planning on attending any search conference this year, find out tips on how to make the most of you're experience. 

Search and social media marketing events are frequently the stage for major developments in industry practices and schools of thought. The first big U.S. search engine marketing (SEM) conference of the new year, SMX West, tackled a multitude of newly emerging issues facing SEOs and interactive marketers. Consider that in the few months of 2012 that have passed, Google outlined more than 40 changes to search results affecting the presentation of local results, the valuation of link equity and analytics data provided to webmasters.

Bruce Clay, Inc. attended SMX West and here, we have collected the most popular topics of discussion among speakers and attendees including the totality of our SMX West coverage

The majority of the content falls under one of three categories: search engine marketing, social media marketing and conference attendee tips.

Search Engine Marketing

SMX West was essentially a four-day barrage of case studies, tool demos, how-tos, tactics and strategies shared straight from the Internet marketing trenches. Processing the information shared and understanding how a specific business can act on the insight can be a challenge in light of information overload. 

One way to combat this potential paralysis at the conference is to ask questions of experienced digital marketing pros who are finding success with creative campaigns, and who have seen what works and what doesn't in real-world marketing and technical applications.

Ask the SEOs was a Q&A forum held toward the end of the conference that presents just such an opportunity. As the audience and panel at this session explored the search engine landscape as it stands today, the following issues stood out as the most pressing technical challenges facing the industry.

Search Quality Updates

At the end of February, a post on the official Google search blog described 40 changes to search that had been implemented in the past month. One item on the list that received a good deal of buzz during SMX West was the description of a change to link valuation criteria:

"Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable."

The panel of experts were unsure what exactly the change might entail. One speaker didn't notice any changes to sites he monitored. Another speaker explained that links are scored based on many characteristics taken together to judge relevance and value. Little is gained by focusing on a single signal affecting the algorithm.

Venice Update

Included among the laundry list of search changes from February was mention of an update to the way Google handles local search results. Dubbed the "Venice Update," businesses with local presence need to be aware of Google's renewed emphasis on traditional organic search ranking factors and enhancements to location detection technology.

"Not Provided" Data

Data-driven marketers at SMX West expressed concern over depleted analytics data as a result of Google's encrypted search for signed-in users. Last October, Google introduced a new segment into its analytics reporting. "Not provided" is the label that Google Analytics has given to a portion of traffic for which no information is available. 

This anonymized searcher data protects user privacy in increasingly personalized search results for which searcher behavior and history is recorded. Many SEOs and website owners have watched the portion of "not provided" grow in the months since its introduction, introducing a new challenge to the job of improving a website based on its performance. Some members of the Ask the SEOs panel suggest it's best to assume that the unknown is equal to the representation of known data.

Social Media Marketing

The darling of the Internet marketing world, social media proves a popular topic at any industry conference or educational event. Two interviews conducted at SMX West illustrate how social media is being approached along with social media marketing challenges facing media managers today.

Insight into Social Media Marketing Strategy for SMX West

Conference attendees were a prime example of an audience that latched on to social media marketing, as SMX and parent company Third Door Media used social strategies for community building and engagement leading up to and during the show. 

The online interactions translated to a highly participatory conference environment. Attendees used established social media communities such as the SMX West Facebook group and the Twitter hashtag "#smx" to plan meet-ups while in San Jose, ask speakers questions and connect over everything from presented strategies to networking activities.

Orchestrating social media for the SMX conference series is Akvile Harlow of Third Door Media. Akvile spoke on camera about her considerations for building active communities for SMX West, including things to think about when presenting oneself as a brand representative. View the conversation below or read the transcript, where we discuss what's worked to drive social engagement for SMX West.

Social Media Marketing for Difficult Industries

Another aspect of social media marketing is the challenge of engaging customers through social networks when a product or service is considered private or outside the typical realm of public sharing. 

This begs the question: Which social media channels are effective in driving brand awareness and building relationships with customers for industries where one generally doesn't care to broadcast an affiliation, such as loans or cosmetic surgery?

Rachel Colonel, manager of Web projects at payday lender Check 'n Go, outlined the obstacles her brand faced in terms of social media outreach, and pointed to solutions she heard presented at SMX West. See our interview here or read the transcript for ideas for forging personal connections with customers:

Tips for Attending Internet Marketing Conferences

Toni Carreiro is a website developer and SEO out of the Bay Area from her company She's attended a number of conferences in more than a decade in the industry, finding attendance at educational summits helps her stay on the pulse of rapidly evolving marketing requirements. 

"It’s important for me to get out and reach out to other people and meet other people and hear more about what they’re doing," Carreiro told us during an interview at SMX West. 

Conferences offer unparalleled opportunity to learn from the successful marketing strategies being shared by other practitioners. Here, Toni talks about ways to maximize the return on conference investment by making the most of time. Read a transcript of our interview on the blog.

Also consider these additional tips to make the most efficient and productive use of your limited conference time:

  • Map out the sessions you want to attend beforehand.
  • Consider the session speakers carefully and understand that search engine employees don't always offer the most concrete or actionable information.
  • Engage other attendees to ensure you're aware of the major themes emerging from sessions and discussions, including those you haven't seen yourself.
  • Follow up the conference by reading event coverage. A multiple-day conference can leave you feeling inundated with information. Stepping back and reviewing popular discussion topics can help you analyze the direction of the industry and necessary strategies.

Now that you've seen the interviews we conducted at the show, you can find a listing of the sessions liveblogged at SMX West including coverage from guest liveblogger Kathy Long for Bruce Clay, Inc. -- a website designer and SEO at

Kathy won our Small Biz Discovery Contest in 2011, so we gave her a pass to this conference and a seat in Bruce Clay's SEO training workshop. Huge thanks to Kathy for jumping in to beef up our conference coverage!

While we've only just finished digesting the content of this last conference, this week we're at SES New York and will be collecting more interviews, liveblogging more sessions and taking more pictures from the show. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter @BruceClayInc to stay up-to-date.

By the way, peep us on Facebook for pictures from SMX West and the BCI sponsored SMX West Meet and Greet.

For permission to reprint or reuse any materials, please contact us. To learn more about our authors, please visit the Bruce Clay Authors page. Copyright © 2012 Bruce Clay, Inc.