Thoughts On Search Engine Strategies NYC 2008

The buzz in Midtown Manhattan last week was a strange mix of major events in New York politics and financial markets, a St. Patrick's Day parade, and yes, a search engine marketing conference.  This setting of a parade surrounded by transition was somewhat fitting, as the Search Engine Strategies NYC conference at the Midtown Hilton was a departure from past conferences (this was my fourth SES in NYC).

The show did not seem to me to be much lighter in attendance than previous SES shows, contrary to what Mark Simon wrote on Monday (see his  column  here -- Mark, did you only visit the exhibit hall, and not any of the sessions?), but the old SES vibe may be a thing of the past.  Overall, there were many panels covering emerging areas such as widgets, social media, RIA and the like. The new direction from Kevin Ryan is a bit more interactive-marketing-focused, which is a good thing, because search is becoming more about marketing, and marketing is becoming more about search.   Not that there was anything wrong with the previous approach. It's simply a matter of timing and evolution.

Here are a few additional observations I took away from the show:

Net Neutrality.  The discussion on network neutrality was the most important search panel of the entire conference, yet it had the least amount of attendees -- a room for 500+ was filled with only 20 people.  I have been following this discussion for some time now, and the panel served as something of a wake-up call. The issue of keeping networks open and non-partial is not dead, nor will it go away in the near future.  Simply put, U.S. Internet policy is being determined right now, and the way this policy is eventually written will have a serious impact on the search industry, search engines, the Internet, free speech, and free Internet economies.  

Kudos to SES chairs Rebecca Lieb and Kevin Ryan for putting on this session.  An Internet policy discussion or update would be great at every future event, even if it's for only the 20 people who show up.  I will write more about network neutrality in upcoming columns, but in the meantime if you would like to learn more, visit the links below.

- Wikipedia entry
- Save the Internet
- Google's position on Net Neutrality
- Open Internet Coalition
- Google search for "network neutrality"

Jason Calacanis Wednesday keynote. Mahalo's Jason Calacanis gave the Wednesday afternoon keynote to talk about his new human-driven search engine, and also about search optimizers.  Back in December 2006, he made what he said was an offhand remark that most natural search optimization is "bull****", which naturally erupted into a firestorm offline and online.  Calacanis says he doesn't think all SEO is BS, but he still thinks that many approaches are often very short-sighted.

At the end of it all, Calacanis says he is now considering using SEO tactics for Mahalo, based on all the free advice he has been getting as a result of search experts trying to sell him on the concept of SEO.   He doesn't consider his own use of these tactics as "SEO" -- but more "marketing."   As Oprah would say, this was truly a full-circle moment.  Hopefully the people who have been giving Calacanis a hard time will now go a bit easier on him. 

Universal Search.  Tuesday's Orion panel on Google Universal was one of the most interesting of the three days I attended, in the form of new research presented by James Lamberti, senior vice president at comScore, on a survey of millions of searchers, searches, and SERPs.  One insightful revelation was that out of 87 million searchers, 58% saw a Universal search result.  Lamberti's findings also stressed that optimizing for Universal is now a marketing imperative, so this is great research to further back up what we search evangelists have been tirelessly preaching and writing about over the last year.

John Battelle spent a lot of time trying to get Google Universal project manager Jack Menzel to admit that Google is changing its business model and is now a media company.    It's an important question Battelle is asking -- and while of course Google is a media company, he seemed to be asking the wrong person, and never got the answer he was looking for.  I hope he will keep asking the right people (maybe Google's Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Matt Cutts, or Marissa Mayer?) so that he may eventually get the right answer.  Read more of what Battelle is thinking  here.

So was the show a success?  Are there too many search conferences?  Would I attend this one again? Were many questions left unanswered? Were there enough full-circle epiphanies?  Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.  And given the buzz scenario, the show was exactly what I expected.




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