After State of Search’s recent poll to find our industry’s favourite conference, I wanted to take the opportunity to again highlight the many benefits of attending some of the conferences put on in our industry.
When I started in SEO, I was slightly overwhelmed by the idea of going to a conference – Was it really going to help that much? Can’t I just learn the same lessons from reading on the internet? Is it really worth the price of the ticket? How do I know what best talks to attend are? Is it a practical use of my time?
This is often also reflected by employers if you need to ask them to both allow you the time off work and fork out for the entrance fee. If you work in a non-search focused agency, it can also be difficult to get the purse string holders to understand that yes a search conference is equivalent to a training course for us.
My first conference was back in the very early days of my SEO career, before the days of twitter (gasp!) when the SEO ‘superstars’ seemed very far away. Looking back on it, I completely wasted it. Yes I went to lots of interesting talks, especially as a newbie and in theory I learnt a lot – much of which I did not go back and put into practice – but I didn’t get involved in the community. To be fair, it was because I didn’t know how much it existed or how friendly and welcoming it was. I spoke to a few people at lunch but my networking skills were terrible!
And this brings me to what I think is by far and away the most crucial benefit of attending conferences: the opportunity to meet, network and informally learn. Many times now I’ve attended a talk which has sparked my interest and given me ideas, but it is the discussions about it afterwards, with my peers, that have really taught me something.
It doesn’t matter if they’ve only just started or are a search veteran, everyone is there for the same reason and everyone has opinions. You find yourself leaving the conference and heading to the pub, only to talk shop all night but show me an SEO who isn’t happy talking shop for hours down the pub and I’ll show you a fraud! I’ve made contacts who have over time become trusted advisors and genuine friends. I can’t say this without a mention to Jaamit, for being my partner in crime back we first met at a conference – when we knew nobody and were the two scared kids in the corner, for getting me into trouble with new acquaintances and for being the wise and funny confidante he became. Love and miss you mr.
I like to think of conferences as a Ferrero Rocher chocolate (FYI by far and away my favourite choc, please get in contact if you’d like to donate some to my cause) – the outside and the main event are delicious, yummy and fairly satisfying but it’s only when you get to the real gem, the hazlenut inside, that you’ve got value for your money.
A few Conference Musts:
1. MEET PEOPLE
As a newbie, I just didn’t take the opportunity to meet and chat to others enough. It actually took me a couple of years to get over my shyness and do this properly – I’ve never looked back. The amount you learn from your new acquaintances over time will be 10 times what you learn on the day from the official talks.
2. ASK QUESTIONS
I’m the first to admit I’m not the best at this, I’m naturally scared of the reaction I’ll get. But getting over this fear is crucial, nobody will laugh at you and I’m yet to meet an SEO who isn’t more than happy to share their experience to help another.
3. DON’T BE AFRAID
There are many SEO ‘superstars’ in the industry these days and it can be quite daunting watching them talk then wanting to speak to them. They’re only people! Don’t shy away, it won’t help anybody.
4. STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
I want to refer back to Rishi’s post about why SEOs should attend Affiliate conferences on this one. As an SEO, I’ve often become blinkered to the rest of the online marketing world and it’s a fool who does. There’s a lot to learn from other disciplines, get involved!
5. DON’T LEAVE THE CONFERENCE IN THE PAST
Don’t waste it. If you meet people, make a point of staying in touch. If you learn something, make a point of implementing it. If you have an idea, act on it. The worst conference sin you can commit is to do everything right on the day then go back to your daily routine like it never happened!
A final thought on the practicalities of attending conferences. A few years ago, there was a much smaller choice of conferences to attend and many of these were very expensive and inaccessible to the average person. A lot of smaller, cheaper but just as good conferences are being organised now so don’t assume it’s too much for you. There are options for everybody. After all, our very own Kelvin Newman organised a 100% free Brighton SEO Conference last year which was a roaring success. And if you really can’t find a local event to attend, remember you can always set up your own!
What are you waiting for? Get out there! (And don’t forget to vote in our poll next year!)
Image: Think Visibility conference from Joost de Valk’s Flickr.