I'm writing from the conference room on Captiva Island, Fla., after the second day of sessions at Search Insider Summit. The show is literally being held on a narrow barrier island on the Florida Gulf coast, complete with manatees, dolphins, and alligators (oh my!).
This was my second SIS conference, with the first being the inaugural affair at Keystone, Colorado in the summer of 2006. Over that time I've covered a number of other search conferences for Search Insider (see this column, this one, this one, this one, and this one), and based on the two I've attended, I would say that the Search Insider Summit may be the most unique, strategically informative and activity-filled search conference around.
My highlights and observations:
Strategy defines the discussion. Fellow Search Insiders Gord and David's strategic approach set this conference apart from others. If you are looking for specific tactics, or how to learn everything about search at one event, then this one is not for you; SES, SMX, or WebmasterWorld will suit your needs fine. But if you are an enterprise search marketer having all the basics down, with several years invested in search marketing, then the next SIS just might be for you.
The networking quality-ratio is extremely high. I found many people I was particularly interested in talking with, and the size and pace of the affair ensured plenty of opportunities for discussion. Not something that typically happens for me at bigger shows -- not because they are lacking in interesting people with expertise, but more because of the faster pace and size of those events.
The location. Having recently come off a trip from another part of Florida, I didn't mind the trek at all, especially to the island setting. It takes some time to get there from the airport because the speed limit is 30 miles per hour over a long haul across the island - done partially to protect the loggerhead sea turtles that often cross the roads. The outlying location is a good thing, as your purpose on Search Island quickly becomes clear: you are not going anywhere -- you are going to talk about search and hang with other like-minded individuals, and you may even come face-to-face with the island wildlife at one point or another.
The content and approach. The breakout session format was unique for three reasons: 1) sessions broke out into small groups of around 7-10 people; 2) the experience and background of participants added focus and quality to the discussions; and 3) they followed a series of uninterrupted presentations.
Since I was leading one of the breakouts and had not participated in this format before, I found it to be more informative as both a speaker and listener. When a question is asked in a small group, versus a large audience, there is more back and forth and sharing of ideas; it's less of a Q&A and more of a discussion. And there was the freedom to move the discussion along and pursue tangents if merited.
Attendees are open to discussion, and accessible. In addition to having quality conversations, it helps that people shared information in a useful way. If you found the right person to talk with for an hour or two, you might learn more here about strategy here than at just about any other search conference.
It wasn't just about natural search, paid media, local, etc. -- it was about search converging in multiple areas. Fitting with the strategic tone of the event, it was good to jump around on topics and talk about where they overlaid. The Universal and Advanced Organic breakout jumped into the paid realm quite a bit, and for good reason. I gained a reinforced sense that the borderlines of many search tactics and strategies are fading, some quickly, and some not so quickly.
So to all attendees reading this column, it was a pleasure talking with you and getting to meet you. To those readers who did not make it, it was a show for a very select group. Hope to see you at the next one.