Anyone Else Burned Out On SEO Conferences?

02 Jan

Anyone Else Burned out on SEO Conferences
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So, I’ve been fortunate to attend a lot of conferences the past 18 months.

In no particular order, they include:

SMX Advanced
Pubcon (Twice)
C3 (Twice)

The first few were great to attend. I even got to speak at the SMX East show in NYC last year. (Thanks again!)

Pubcon last year was fantastic. This year? (2013) Not so much.

SMX Advanced had the vaunted “Search Engine Showdown” between Matt Cutts and Duane Forrester. C3 (2013) had presentations from Rand Fishkin (Cant Buy Me Love) Wil Reynolds and Bill Hunt. Of which Wil Reynolds and Bill Hunt both provided the best pieces of information that I’ve seen for quite some time. In other words real, actionable takeaway bits of information that I could apply immediately (and have).

For me, that is the sign of a great conference. Give me something I can take back and start using right away. I don’t care about the vendor part of these conferences. I know it’s a required evil, but c’mon! All the pretend conversations about talking about themselves is of no interest to me.

One thing. I’m not bashing the people work tirelessly and without enough praise who put these events together. I can only imagine the amount of planning and juggling one has to do in order to pull these events off.


I think someone needs to step it up. I fully recognize that the SEO industry is still growing and just about every conference I go to, there are always a new influx of faces. That’s a great thing. But the downside is that for someone like me who’s been in the industry for over a decade, there is hardly anything new being presented at the conferences.

Some presentations were basically updated from the year before, but I’m not going to point out anyone in particular.

I need a conference that will challenge my thinking. Give me some new ideas to try. Slap me in the face with some mind-blowing technique that I am missing.

How can we accomplish this?

I put together a list of rules that I think would raise the level for all conferences:

This sets the tone to make sure anyone who arrives is going to be vested in making the event worth while.
6.) REAL TIME SESSIONS. This means the black hat techniques will be performed at the conference. Live.
7.) SPEED NETWORKING EVENTS. Like speed dating, only here you will actually get to talk to someone you really want to spend time with.
9.) SWAG BAGS. All vendors who want to give something away will place their promotional item in one collective bag that all attendees will receive.

I realize that some of the ideas presented here might seem radical or would prevent an event from taking place, but we need a shake up in the industry that will provide value for those like me who don’t need to see another slide show on why content marketing is important, but instead, let’s look at real, actionable methods to be used by all who attend.

I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Who else thinks we need to “step it up” for these conferences?

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  1. Jim Hodson | January 2, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Instead of altering the conferences themselves, I would alter your expectations (or approach to attending) which I believe to be a bit unrealistic or more appropriately stated… I would alter “where” you look to gain those “actionable takeaways”.

    Note that I have attended many of the conferences listed above. SMX and Pubcon are probably two of my favorites. For example, I’ve attended the last 7 Vegas Pubcons. And each year I come away with 10-20 actionable takeaways. I pay for all expenses to attend myself because I find them so valuable. But I don’t go expecting many if any “actionable takeaways” from the conference sessions themselves… let me explain.

    The first year (maybe two) that I attended Pubcon, I actually focused on the sessions for takeaways. I used the sessions to broaden my knowledge in areas where I felt I was the weakest or to learn about the lastest greatest trends in search (like SoLoMo/Social, Local, and Mobile when it was first coming out). And I continue to use such conferences to get a quick 50,000 foot overview of similar new trends (two years ago that might have been schema markup for example).

    But during those first two years at Pubcon I realized that the “real” value of attending such conferences was NOT in the sessions and panels presenting there… but instead were in the actual attendees.

    While I always buy full conference passes so that I can attend any session, the primary value of such passes for me at least is in:

    1) the access to the session attendees sitting around you whom you get to talk to before, during and after the sessions,
    2) getting to sit with attendees and panelist at breakfast and lunch (if the conference offers them),
    3) for Pubcon specifically, building lifelong friendships with Moderators and other users from whom I previously only knew online but respect their opinions, but the same is true for any conference that people attend year after year,
    4) gaining access to conference networking events,

    In short, I go for the networking.

    Only an idiot panelist would get up in front of hundreds or thousands of people (who tomorrow could/would be their competitors) an literally give away their “secret sauce”… insights they have gained in search through years of hard work, hard knocks, and testing. Why would anyone do that, especially if as you suggest, they receive no financial incentives to do so?

    However, if you somehow seek out that same panelist between sessions, befriend them, go to dinner/drinks with them, attend conference networking events with them, etc. then you can often create very valuable long term relationships. Same goes for attendees.

    I think conferences like SMX and Pubcon are invaluable as they exists today IF you have the right mindsite going in. Initially they are a good way to jumpstart a career in search for the inexperienced. But after that it is all about networking.

    If you’re new to search then the first year or two, focus on the sessions to broaden your knowledge while trying to build relationships with attendees and panelists.

    Once you have the basics of search down, shift focus to networking. Force yourself to sit down at every continental breakfast or lunch at tables with complete strangers so you can strike up conversations and compare experiences. Seek out others in attendance that you know and respect from online but don’t know personally. Invite groups of attendees that you meet to go out to dinner and drinks in the evenings.

    Many of these attendees and panelists (at Pubcon especially) are running businesses out of their basements making tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars per month in revenue. Create and nurture relationships with them and over time, and THEN they will share with you some of their “secret sauce”. But it must be a give and take relationship.

    THIS is where you get the absolute best “actionable takeaways”… not in the sessions.

  2. admin | January 2, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Hi Jim –

    Thanks for your points, they certainly have a lot of merit.

    As I myself have said on this very site about not telling anyone my “secret sauce” to ranking success, there are ways to demonstrate some techniques that work without revealing the specific details on a particular effort.

    The networking part of the conferences, I get. But, I can’t always do all of the meetings/lunches/parties because I still have work to do (despite being at the conference!)

    I still think a conference where everyone is motivated to get something out of it will always yield the best results.


  3. Andrew | January 2, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Good thoughts. I don’t get to go to too many conferences, but that is partly because I hear exactly what you’re saying about burnout. You are going to hear many things repeated if you get to attend several like you’ve been able to recently.

    What you might want to do is simply slow down some from attending so many conferences. It’s kinda like eating food… It tastes good for a while, but if you eat too much at one time you start feeling awful, get sick, then end up hating even the thought of eating for a while. SEO conferences can be beneficial and provide action steps for you, but really what more are you going to learn by attending as many as you can?

    I’ve found it beneficial to go to a small variety of conferences, so I don’t get burned out from hearing the same things over and over. For instance, go to an SEO conference, then attend a straight up marketing conference to get some ideas outside of SEO, which you can then apply to your SEO strategies.

    I really enjoy MozCon, as it seems they do a good job of getting great speakers who focus on much of what you’re saying. It’s also more than a SEO confer end, as they tend to focus on more of a wholistic marketing strategy anyway.


  4. admin | January 2, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    Hi Andrew –

    Thanks for the response. I am actually planning on attending Mozcon this year instead of the SMX advanced. I hope that you and others are right in saying that it could be the best conference to attend.


  5. Tommy Landry | January 6, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Hi Paul,

    That’s the big issue with large conferences – what is the best way to divvy up the topics and sessions between beginners and the more experienced SEOs?

    I don’t make it to most of the national conferences since my client base is heavily focused in the local market, but am planning to start slotting in at least one per year (It was SXSW in 2013, which I must say is NOT the place for an experienced SEO to learn much of value – much better for social media marketers and designers).

    Andrew makes a valid point, though. Burnout may have something to do with simple overload. When you are hearing the leading minds in SEO speak 5-6 times a year, there’s not enough time buffer for major new concepts to grow wings. So you end up hearing rehashed versions of the same materials. It’s like seeing the same band 5 times on the same tour – you better like hearing the same tunes repeatedly.

    All that said, it’s great to put out new ideas to challenge the status quo. If we just settle for whatever is out there, the quality is sure to fade over time as events become more concerned with money and attendance, or even entertainment value, over breaking new ground. Thanks for the great food for thought.


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