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Lee Odden

Matt McGowan Interview: Lowdown on SES New York 2008

By Lee Odden     Interviews, Search Engine Strategies, Spotlight on Search

Spotlight on Search Interview with Matt McGowan of Incisive Media: Search Engine Watch, ClickZ, Search Engine Strategies.

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The Search Engine Strategies conference in New York undoubtedly one of my favorites and the next SES NYC show is coming up fast, March 17-20, 2008. Since SES has changed its format starting with the New York show, I pinged Incisive Media’s Marketing VP Matt McGowan with a few questions on format, speakers, Yahoo/Microsoft, recession and his 5 top reasons for attending a SEM conference in the Big Apple.

Matt, this is our first time interviewing you. Can you share a bit about your background and how exactly you became the “007 VP of Marketing” for Incisive Media and what you do? (Make it good because we’ll do our best to make sure this interview ranks well on Google ;) )

The only thing James Bond and I have in common is that we spend a lot of time on the road… that said I do appreciate the comparison.

In brief, I have been working in the online/digital space officially since 1998 but unofficially since 1995 when I bought my first domain. I have worked for Charles Schwab, Pearson Plc and most recently PropertyRoom.com (where I still have an interest, hence the link J). Throughout this time I have been an avid reader of both ClickZ and Search Engine Watch and when the opportunity to come on board and head up the Marketing team was presented to me, I couldn’t resist.

My skills lie on the Marketing and Business Development side of the business and luckily enough for Incisive that’s where they put me.

I am an avid user of LinkedIn and other online networks, both personally and professionally – if you come across my profile please do connect. Just please tread lightly with the Super Pokes, though recommendations are just fine!

The upcoming Search Engine Strategies conference in New York has an impressive lineup of speakers including John Battelle, Nick Carr and the infamous (at least in SEO circles) Jason Calcanis. Who are you looking forward most to hearing? How about the least? (Hey, you can’t blame me for trying) Q/A with Calcanis can be entertaining to say the least.

SES NY has a fantastic line up and it is therefore hard for me to play favorites. That said John Battelle, Andrew Tomkins and Gordon McLeod are definitely at the top of my list. John, because he has been someone who the series has been after for a long time and I heard that he turned down a $100 million offer to sell Federated; Andrew, because I really like what Yahoo! is doing in the Search space and to say they are a hot topic now is an understatement; Gordon, because he will speak about how (and why) the Wall St Journal had to change everything to compete in this Search-driven world.

As for Nick, we just did a well received webcast with him and he will be speaking at our SES London event next week – he is an amazing speaker and has a lot of valuable information to deliver.

Jason, I have heard him speak twice now at SES Conferences and I am definitely looking forward to this one – going to grab a front row seat. Would you like to join me?

Let’s not forget the other 200+ speakers who will be leading the presentations and discussions in the seminar rooms – there will be tons of tactical information disseminated… definitely not to be missed.

The new format being introduced with SES New York starts out with high level strategy content on day one and keynote speakers plus the “Orion Panel” idea of having industry thought leaders set things up for a tactical ride through the rest of the conference. You’re also having less speakers and emphasizing more case studies. Can you share where the idea to reformat came from and what your expectations are?

The one constructive critique we heard over the year’s about the Search Engine Strategy Series was that we delivered an immense amount of tactical content to our delegates but that we could increase the amount of strategy discussed. Over the last year, under the leadership of Kevin Ryan we have addressed this concern with the addition of the Orion Panels, designed specifically to give our attendees access to the industry’s thought leaders and drive discussions on the hottest topics we face today in Search.

On the other side of the coin, we were told that sessions needed more time for Q&A – expect to see moderators keeping presentations from running on so that this can happen as well.

Case study driven education is an important part of the learning process. It is how some of society’s best minds have been educated for years. Law Schools, Business Schools and alike all use the case study system. Understanding the successes and failures of the past can only help SEM’s to avoid them in the future.

I encourage all SEM’s who have a good story to tell to apply today for speaking opportunities at one of our various events globally – the procedures and guidelines are posted for all to read.

Microsoft dropped quite a bomb recently with its offer for Yahoo. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think a Microhoo as a real Google threat is possible? What do you think their biggest challenges will be?

I am excited, it is big news and something we have been predicting on SEW for a long time. We have covered the potential acquisition extensively both on the SEW blog and in our columns, most recently Kevin Newcomb wrote a 3 part article – 1, 2, 3 – on it. In fact, SEW was the only source that I could find that covered the Google reaction last Sunday.

It has some serious implications for the industry that said I do not think it poses an immediate threat to Google in the Search space. The way I look at it is combining YHOO’s web traffic with MSFT’s resources (aka $$$)… the possibilities are endless in search, display, gaming and all the other facets the two are involved in.

All that said, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Yahoo! will likely reject the $31/share bid by MSFT – will MSFT up the ante? According to SES Advisory Board member, Sandeep Aggarwal of Oppenheimer, discussions of a $40+/share offer between the two companies were in the works just last year (is Yahoo! really worth that much less today?) Will another potential suitor jump in the game? AOL? Private Equity? Will regulators approve if a deal is ever made? Only time will tell – I am sure there will be a few more surprises and announcements in the coming days, weeks and months.

With all the buzz about an impending recession many companies are already tightening their purse strings. As you know, marketing is often the first to feel such belt tightening. If we do go into recession, what impact do you think there will be in the search marketing industry? Do you think there will be any changes with in-house and agency side marketers and their conference attendance?

It’s an issue we discuss regularly here and anyone not concerned is likely a bit full of themselves. On the positive side, those companies who see the value in their campaigns and optimization programs, which likely also means the ones that have Search Marketers who communicated the ROI of their work to their executive teams, will be better off than those who lack that communication. It is easy to forget that budgetary decision makers may still not be aware of the effectiveness of Search and I implore all those employed in Search to increase communication/reporting. Most should not be hiding as they likely have a strong story to tell.

The conference series continues to receive support from the community and registrations and sponsorships continue to climb year on year. That said, we are exploring other ways to reach our customers – ways that don’t require them incur large travel expenses… online training, local events in our customers back yards and alike.

Lastly, what are your top 5 reasons for attending a conference in New York?

  1. Education – with over 200 industry veterans leading over 70 sessions and presentations on an equal if not greater number of topics, search and digital marketers who are not there risk being left behind, and I will continue to get ahead.
  2. Networking – this is the largest attended Search event on the planet, with over 8,000 people in attendance last year, and pretty much the only time all year (other than SES San Jose in August) to meet and socialize with the industry as a whole. We are a growing industry and I enjoy meeting all the new faces and reconnecting with the regulars, there are some really amazing people in this space.
  3. WebMasterRadio’s Search Bash – stay tuned for the announcement but this will be a party you will not want to miss and therefore deserved its own mention. Thanks Brandy!
  4. Kevin Ryan – for all those who have not yet had the chance to watch this Search luminary on stage, you are missing out. He truly is one of the most dynamic, entertaining and knowledgeable speakers in the Industry.
  5. Location – New York City, need I say more!

Not enough? How about 20,000 more!

If you made it this far then you deserve something in return – one of my favorite sites on the web is here. Enjoy!

Thanks Matt!


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