Exclusive Interview: Danny Sullivan about SMX East, Google and a changing industry

Exclusive Interview: Danny Sullivan about SMX East, Google and a changing industry

18th August 2011

Conference season has started again. If you are an eager (search) marketer wanting to learn stuff you can really make some steps in the next few months with lots of conferences around. Off course State of Search will be present. Sometimes speaking, sometimes blogging.

Mid-September we will be at SMX Stockholm where no less than three bloggers are speaking. A week before that however is SMX New York. We will try to get coverage from there too. Leading up to SMX East we are already looking forward to this conference. We talked to organizer, editor in chief of Searchengineland, and probably the most famous person in search next to Matt Cutts, Danny Sullivan about the show and his view on the current developments in search. Danny talks about his job as an organizer, what we can expect from the show and also gives us an insight into his thoughts about the changing industry.

Bas van den Beld: Setting up a conference takes time, I can imagine that the program is something you work on for months. The industry seems to be changing at an immense pace. How can you respond to that when planning the program of the conference? How can you stay current?

Danny Sullivan: “We respond to the changing industry by constantly redoing our program. When we sit down to create an agenda, we review each and every session that was offered at the last one, asking ourselves if it’s still relevant. More than half get dropped right there. In some cases, the industry has already moved on. In other cases, it’s time to take a topic and then advance it to another level, or to get more focused about a particular aspect.

The bottom line is that we can just sit back and recycle the same old stuff, nor do we. We keep things that we think are relevant, and which a particular audience (say in New York versus San Jose) might not have seen. But much more, we’re constantly filling the schedule with fresh programming.

We usually do an agenda about four months out. Despite all the change in the space, that’s still pretty “close” to when the actual event happens not to get overtaken by events. Still, we’ll often leave one or two sessions as TBA, just as some back-up, in case we need something. We’ll also reshape a session, if necessary.”

Bas van den Beld: SMX is known for its ‘advanced’ character. Unlike SMX Seattle and SMX London, SMX East is not labeled “advanced”. What is the difference between the both? What is the kind of audience which you are aiming at, who should come?

Danny Sullivan: “SMX Advanced is especially known for its advanced character, and that’s on purpose – it’s designed for the advanced search marketer. There’s no attempt to cater to those who are beginner or intermediate. If you come, you’re jumping into the deep end of the pool, and you’re expected to be a proficient swimmer. That’s one reason advanced marketers love it so much. They can dive deep without wasting time in the shallow end.

Our SMX West and SMX East shows are different. There’s still a huge amount of advanced content at them – there’s always some advanced session that’s going on. But those shows are much more inclusive. The Boot Camp session on the first day is designed to get beginners up to speed. Other sessions throughout the event are designed to be accessible to beginners and those with intermediate skills.

So SMX West and East are designed for people of all skill levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced) as well as interests (SEO, PPC or both).”

Bas van den Beld: What are the not-to-miss sessions at this SMX?

Danny Sullivan: “That depends on who you are, of course. On my list are these:

· Which Way Google?
· A Keynote Conversation With Eli Pariser
· The Great Correlation vs. Causation Debate
· PPC & SEO: Can’t We All Just Get Along?
· Up Close With Google+ and Google +1
· Discussion: Will Retargeting & Remarketing Become Too Creepy?
· Schema.org, Rel=Author & Meta Tagging For 2012
· The Current State Of Personalized Search
· Pagination & SEO
· Link Building: Why You’re Doing It Wrong
· Remarketing & Retargeting: The New Behavioral Ads”

(Editor: Find the full program here)

Bas van den Beld: You have a specific evening session planned this time. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Danny Sullivan: “For years, I’ve done this open forum format that has proven popular. There’s no PowerPoint, no agenda, just me taking questions from the audience. I provide my views and answers, but I also get the audience to participate, as well. Often I’ll see someone who I know is an expert on a particular question in the audience and call on them. Sometimes, I ask the audience as a whole for thoughts and suggestions.

Bas van den Beld: Search is still important and big, but many feel social media is closing in. How do you feel about that? And can Social Media and Search be seen separate?

Danny Sullivan: “It’s not like social media is trying to move into the search marketing house and things are getting cramped. That’s the wrong way to view things. Instead, it’s like you have a marketing house with rooms for different activities. Maybe search marketing has been the biggest room. Now social media is as if you’ve had a whole new addition, and extra room added to the house. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s great.

These aren’t rivals to each other. They’re complementary. Social ads can get people earlier in the buying cycle and primed for when they turn to search. Social signals are more and more being used by search as a ranking factor. They support each other.

Ideally, you embrace both. Certainly anyone doing search these days should be looking very closely at how social can support their efforts.”

Bas van den Beld: How do you feel about Google’s latest moves (Plus, Motorola), are they becoming too dominant or is it good for the industry?

Danny Sullivan: “Like anyone, I can be nervous about any company that grows. But I try to be rational and not fearful of big just because something is big. I think Google is actually less dominant in several ways. Thanks to social, you have sites that, if they were hit by a Google ranking change, still might be fine on a traffic basis because search isn’t their sole source. I think that Bing has been rising quite nicely as a check on ensuring that Google stays honest, so to speak. Certainly Google remains the huge leader in search. But it still faces tons of competition from the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.”


More posts about SMX East 2011




Be sure to also look at our overview page of SMX East 2011


The coverage of SMX East on State of Search in part made possible by a sponsoring from Majestic SEO who have the largest Link Intelligence database in Search. To get your free trial, give a card to this blogger in person at the conference or drop us an e-mail.


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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