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Four Takeaways From SES San Jose

by Lisa Barone, August 31, 2007

SES San Jose 2007 officially kicked off Monday, Aug. 20 and delivered four straight days of sessions and exhibitors specializing in topics such as search engine optimization, pay per click, analytics, social media marketing, link buying and more. It was slated to be the biggest search conference of the year, with early numbers reporting that more than 11,000 people made the journey to Northern California just to attend. After the exhibit hall closed down, the sessions finally ended and the lights were dimmed, you can be sure that attendees walked away with some great takeaways from their time spent in San Jose.

Takeaway #1: Blended Search is here to stay

The topic that was on everyone's mind was blended search. It's here, the engines are all on their way to implementing it, so now what? As search marketers, how do we take advantage?

Attendees flocked to sessions like Universal & Blended Search where they learned all about the buzz worthy topic and how multimedia search elements are impacting today's search results. Greg Jarboe conducted searches for popular phrases such as [iphones], [Hilary Clinton], and [hurricane dean] to show attendees how news, images and video were working their way into the standard SERPs and what search marketers can do to take advantage of it.

Components of blended search are being integrated by all the engines, however, they're being used in different ways. Yahoo! and MSN are just barely showing media results in their main SERPs, while Ask is creating comprehensive portal pages and Google is intermixing multimedia elements on a very controlled, concentrated level. What the engines are beginning to do is take the queries being submitted by users and they're sending them everywhere. They're looking at all their available verticals (Image, News, Local, etc) to determine how they should handle the query. What will give users the most relevant results?

To help search marketers address this question, SES San Jose featured an entire Multimedia track with sessions like Podcast & Audio Search Optimization, Images & Search Engines and Video Search Engine Optimization all designed to educate site owners on how to utilize the different mediums to strengthen their traditional search engine optimization campaigns. Marketers have seen that in this new world of blended search, it's going to take a lot more than just being one of ten blue links to convert. Engaging and exciting users has become more important than ever before.

Tied into the issue of blended search is the issue of personalization. Google, in particular, has received a lot of criticism for the way they have "forced" personalization on users by giving them no easy way to turn it off. Vice President of Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer explained to a packed audience during her keynote presentation that this is done on purpose. Google doesn't want users to pay attention to whether or not their results are personalized. They just want you to see the results and think "these are the right results for my search".

But it's not just the organic listings that will be affected by Universal search. Marissa hinted that because of recent eye-tracking studies that showed users were paying less attention to ads now that media elements were on the page, we may soon see media-based ads cluttering up our SERPs.

Takeaway #2: "Google is not the government"

The statement above was pulled from the first slide of Michael Gray's "Are Paid Links Evil" presentation and was the theme for much of the SES show. The obvious frustration expressed by speakers and attendees was quite a departure from the virtual Google love fest that usually takes place during search conferences (especially when there's a Google Dance involved). However, during the paid links session, Michael Gray told an enthusiastic audience that Google is not the government and that Matt Cutts telling you not to buy links is like Ronald McDonald telling you not to buy a Whopper. You control your site.

There is a growing feeling that it is wrong for Google to expect webmasters to put a rel=nofollow on all paid links. Webmasters feel like Google is taking advantage and imposing bogus restrictions due to their inability to run their own engine. It was repeatedly stressed that the rel=nofollow was first created by Google in order to combat blog spam. It was a way for bloggers and site owners to say "I can't vouch for the quality of this link". Now that it has been widely adopted, Google has turned it around and is asking site owners to use it on purchased links, even if they can vouch for their quality.

The shared sentiment during last Tuesday's paid links session was that Google is supposed to be about organizing the world's information. They're not there to tell you how to run your Web site, how to buy or sell advertising, or how to run your business.

Up against an angry mob, Matt Cutts stuck to his guns and repeated what he has said many times before on his own blog -- webmasters are free to run their sites however they want, but at the same time, Google is free to run its index the way it sees fit.

Takeaway #3: Search marketing is a valid profession

If you took a look at the session agenda for SES San Jose, you noticed two interesting things. First, that this was the first year organizers were offering a session to educate search marketers on how to get started in the search business, and second, that they weren't just offering the session once, they were offering it twice, with two different set of speakers.

The sessions were interesting because it was the first time I had seen a conference offer practical advice to help search marketers land a dream SEO job. Typically the sessions are geared to what you need to know in order to perform search engine optimization. They're about the latest techniques, the biggest issues, etc. This time it wasn't so much about the technical stuff; it was about how to get hired as an inhouse SEO and the best way to present yourself.

Both sessions were targeted to the newbie search marketer and focused on how they should educate themselves about the business. It included obvious tips like reading blogs, attending training classes, etc, and then moved on to the interview process and specific hiring tips.

Sessions like this are a testament to the clear growth we're seeing in the search engine optimization industry. It's no longer about do-it-yourself tactics. The industry is becoming more professional and we're being asked to act accordingly. These types of sessions are only going to become more and more important, as a lot of big business are looking to hire inhouse SEOs in order to bring the entire project under one roof.

Takeaway #4: China is the next great search frontier

The last big topic at this year's SES San Jose was China and the opportunities that lie there for search marketers. ComScore reports that there are now more than 160 million Internet users in China, a number that is up considerably from just one year ago.

The talk regarding China reach a fever pitch during last week's One Billion Searchers panel, where search marketers convened to talk about the China's booming search market and learn the steps needed to be a part of it. The takeaway here was really that if you're going to try and enter the Chinese space, you have to do it their way, which means abiding by their customs and moving at a much slower pace.

Search marketers in China face many obstacles that they are not used to here in the United States. For one, most of the Internet advertising done in China is for branding purposes. It's not intended to make people convert, as most users are still wary of completing transactions online. Other things to consider are that most Web sites use numbers, not letters, do to the vast size of the Chinese alphabet. Relationships are everything in China. You have to move at their speed and who you know, how you know them and how long you've known them are vitally important.

There is a lot for search marketers to consider before launching into the space, but the size of the work is very much equal to the size of the reward. Search is booming in the Far East. SES speaker Bill Hunt noted that requests for projects in China have not doubled or tripled, but increased 10 times over. Search marketers and the engines alike are realizing that China truly is the next frontier of search.

Search conferences like Search Engine Strategies, Search Marketing Expo and AdTech present valuable experiences for search marketers hoping to learn from their peers and connect with representatives from the various search engines. Site owners are able to express frustrations, get some knowledge transfer and network with others who may be able to help them in the future. Above is what I believeto be the top four takeaways from Search Engine Strategies San Jose, but you can read all of our session coverage over at the Bruce Clay, Inc. blog.

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