Since I’ve only recently come back from SES San Francisco I’ve decided to share my thoughts on the advantages of attending SEO conferences and expos to provide you with insights on what’s hot and what is not!
As you can imagine conferences are YOUR chance to finally network with some of the finest minds in the digital sphere whilst listening to industry leaders latest offerings …however looking back part of me wonders if I would have missed much would I not have attended ‘some’ conferences.
If anything is consistent amongst different conferences it is without a doubt the numerous opportunities to network with others, which are usually great. It represents the unique chance to network with your peers, prospects and yes even your competitors – keep your friends close but your enemies closer. At events you can actually connect with the SEO crowd, you might have already done so via digital outlets but quiet frankly nothing beats a real face-to-face! I personally have very fond memories of SES New York 2012 earlier this year as that was the place where I’ve actually met the one and only Bas van den Beld and that was exactly where I was asked to become a blogger for State of Search.
It’s no secret that some people use the expo hall only passes for this purpose solely and who can blame them? Connecting with others helps to create new relationships (and what is any business without relationships?) such as recruiting new staff (blogging in my instance ;), referring work or identifying new prospects. On top of that networking with like-minded professionals helps you to create a truly, unique learning opportunity. From what I’ve seen so far I’d recommend smaller conferences as the intimate atmosphere allows far better networking opportunities.
The next step is then to find out which watering hole will host the official networking efforts and at what time. You’ll see (probably to your surprise) that there’s generally a hard core group of speakers who also like to enjoy the more pleasant sides of life and who are usually likely to discuss issues over a drink with you.
….with your Competitors
As you are working the room meeting and greeting others you’ll be guaranteed to bump into some of your competitors. This is your chance to ask the questions you always wanted to ask. Ask yourself what you always wanted to find out about that competitor and listen to what they have to say. Sessions held by competing companies should be attended as they will reveal valuable information you can’t afford to miss. However, what I’ve learned from my experience is that not all organizers provide Slideshare copies so don’t rely on that. Make sure you are armed with your camera or phone to capture it, in this day and age there are no excuses!
Interestingly I have noticed for myself and also from speaking to other attendees that conferences can vary. Looking at two of the biggest SMX and SES it has become apparent that SMX offers more value to seasoned marketers whilst SES also has plenty of coverage for the likes of marketing novice. As a way of learning it can be pretty useful however, depending on what you are after. I myself have been at sessions where the speaker’s purpose was a sales message rather than sharing knowledge. I would strongly recommend though that you try your best to get a free consultation. How you can achieve that? Once a speaker’s session is finished rush up to them and ask them the questions you are itching to ask. Real SEOs are not in for the money but to solve problems you are having with your online marketing, so make the best of it! Keep in mind that they usually charge a lot of money for a consultation so whatever time you can get with speakers will be worth the conference fee.
Something else I have learned and find really useful is to research speakers prior to the event. Simply pick the ones you are most interested in and plan your day around it in order to get the most out of it. Attending conferences allows you to learn and take information in on different levels, something that is truly priceless for someone eager to learn. However, even-though one could capture a key element of every session visited the information won’t have the same impact on your team as if they would have been there themselves. Everyone is learning differently.
As mentioned earlier conferences provide you with direct competitor insights which you can also use to optimise your own sales force. Listen closely how they are marketing and selling their product/service to prospects. Analogies and a good story can work wonders when explaining complex search engine marketing issues. It can’t harm knowing what your competitors are saying and presenting, can it?
Q & A’s
This is one of my favourite parts of conferences as it allows all of us to ask speakers the questions that have been on our minds. It’s great to meet and speak with speakers once they’ve finished their presentations. This is your chance for an exclusive 1:1. Of course, not all businesses are facing the same hurdles and challenges as well as not all marketers have the same skill-set. By having the opportunity to ask your specific question a conference could essentially pay for itself when you get the answers to some of your businesses’ biggest challenges.
Content and Ideas Generation
For us bloggers conferences are a goldmine for content sourcing. What I usually do is to take lots of notes from my chosen sessions which enable me to write up articles afterwards to share what I’ve learned. Another good idea is to sum up what you’ve learned in a Power Point presentation so that you can train your in-house staff on the latest.
Go and approach SEO, PPC and Social Media experts and ask them for an interview which you could run as an exclusive. Another direction might be to start an interview series on a particular topic which you’ll evolve from conference to conference (bonus here is the authentic relationship building process with the expert).
Additionally, take lots of photos and videos for your own social media efforts and promotion of your blog and your company’s website.
Missing what has been said
I guess the lucky ones of you are busy live tweeting and blogging from conferences, but what I find a bit concerning though is that sometimes you might miss the speaker’s point or mix up the data provided. This happens to the best of us! Even-though your aim is to keep others who are less fortunate and cannot attend the events in the loop it might be better than nothing for those but please do ensure that your insights are within context. If pure content generation is what you are after it’s worth attending.
So what have we learned?
- Networking: conferences offer plenty of networking opportunities with peers, competitors and digital experts as well as helping you to possibly outsource some work. But most importantly it’s about landing that long longed for 1:1.
- Knowledge: choose conferences accordingly to your needs and speaker preferences in order to get the most out of it.
- Content/Idea Generation: If new content and idea generation is what you are after go and approach your digital gurus regarding your market’s requirements. Also when you’re at a conference ensure to make photos, films, interviews, etc. to optimise your social media efforts and to share your insights with your audience.
Without a doubt conferences are a great way to gain exposure, build relationships, learn from industry experts and rub shoulders with them. My advice to you though is to visit different conferences to get a feel which ones are best and most suitable according to your personal needs in order for you to get the best value for your investment.
Credits for Visuals: Matt Humphreys