Lessons Learned from One of the Best SEM Conferences in the Industry
SMX West (Search Marketing Expo) is one of the premier events in the search marketing industry and is hosted yearly in a significant location for the search community—in the heart of Silicon Valley. I’ve been involved with SMX for many years. Last year, I had the opportunity to speak on technical SEO at this event. This year, I was able to catch up with colleagues, absorb as much new information as possible, and even make my first visit to Google HQ in Mountain View.
Coming into the event I anticipated several things, such as:
- The reintroduction of the Google Dance (more on this below)
- Industry reaction to the removal of right rail ads on Google
- Insights and outlook on Google local search (since SMX West focused last year on details regarding the major shake-ups in the local search landscape, with local becoming much more like traditional organic search)
- Specific details on how to harness added features and functionality in AdWords, including remarketing, customer audiences, and more
- Seeing how the industry has grown and changed in the past year, as my focus has shifted to an integrated digital marketing model
Starting with the opening evening networking reception hosted by Bruce Clay, Inc., I realized that the buzz was definitely there. I’ve been to many shows in the industry (including West) several times, but this one had a different buzz about it. It seemed bigger and everyone seemed more engaged. Networking was at a different level this year, and while maybe it was just a perception due to the opportunity I had to meet a lot of great new people, I’d like to think that the industry has become more open and focused than ever before.
Key Insights from SMX West 2016
In terms of specific takeaways, I have more insights and perspectives in my notes than I can likely share, but here are some highlights:
- Consider use of customer match remarketing in AdWords. This was rolled out last year, but most of us took a wait and see approach with this (as we do with many new Google features). Two specific case studies showed an average of 50% conversion rate with this tactic. It has been on my “To Test” list for a while, but has since moved up to a tactic to absolutely work into the remarketing mix and lead nurturing process for my clients. In basic terms, it allows you to upload your email list into AdWords and remarket to users that Google can match to their email address or Google account address.
- A conversation that I had over a meal (that I can share) included a strong reminder to never forget that while search marketing is more widely accepted than ever before, that there are still skeptics out there (in US, Canada, and Australia…we have similar stories) based on the actions of a small minority and/or those that used shady tactics years ago. Search marketing isn’t in the silo that it used to be. Three of the six of us in our group did not come from search marketing backgrounds and are either new to the space or are working in companies providing the service as a value-add or new component (ex: printing company, PR agency)
- Another takeaway is a great reminder to not lose sight of the basics in account structure and hierarchy in PPC. Advanced tactics and strategies are great, but you need to cut wasted spend and poor performers before scaling out into other areas.
- The best slide that I saw in a presentation served as a simple, yet great reminder for PPC accounts:
- We received several very interesting insights from Google engineer, Paul Haahr, on the final day. I have a new vocab word in “shards.” The best insight from that session is that it’s rare to look at Google search results and not see an experiment. The oft-quoted stat that Google changes their algorithm over 500 times a year and the fun name associated with the Google Dance are strong reminders that nothing is done in a vacuum. We’re way beyond the days where results were somewhat static and we could see absolute ranking positions. Always be mindful that Google is changing—just like our competition is changing—and we’re (hopefully) also changing as we optimize our sites.
You may have started your reading here by scrolling down to see images of what a Google Dance looks like. Let me start with the
history lesson and detail that hopefully wasn’t missed by those that attended who are under 30. The Google Dance was a historical reference to the early days when Google would roll out updates to the algorithm at off-peak hours that would impact rankings and would often roll back the update (or continue a cycle of pushing out and pulling back updates). This garnered the nickname of the Google Dance from the SEO community.
Fast forward—Google started to hold an event for the SEO community (that Google refers to only as “Webmasters”) at the Googleplex in Mountain View. It was a great outreach event and stopped happening before 2010.
This was the first year that it was brought back for a VIP audience of 500 attendees at West. The whole experience felt special—food, drinks, trivia, a DJ, and even a cupcake bar. But the highlight for many was the brief return of Matt Cutts. Since he stepped away from the role of being the face of Google to many in the SEO community, it is now considered a treat when he makes an appearance. The night at Google rounded out with a great conversation that I had with Maile Ohye, a lead engineer at Google and a popular speaker at industry events—be sure to attend one of her sessions if you can, as they are very insightful.
Many items on my industry bucket list were checked off at SMX 2016 and I can’t emphasize enough the high quality of people I engaged with and both the validation of my strategies and supplement of new tactics that this event offered.