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Lee Odden

Mike Grehan & Stewart Quealy Interview: Co-Chairs Search Engine Strategies

By Lee Odden     Marketing PR Conferences, Online Marketing, Search Engine Strategies

mike stewart sessj 09If you’ve exhibited, presented or moderated a Search Engine Strategies conference, it’s more than likely that you’ve had the opportunity to meet Stewart Quealy, VP, Content Development at Incisive Media, parent company to Search Engine Strategies, Search Engine Watch and ClickZ. Stewart (L), along with Mike Grehan (R) were recently named co-chairs of the SES Advisory Board, which is charged with shaping the future direction and ongoing growth of the SES conference.

The SEM legend, Mike Grehan, is global KDM officer with New York based Acronym Media. He’s been involved with online marketing since 1995 and is recognized in the industry as an expert in the search marketing field. He’s programmed many SES London events and has written multiple books and white papers on search marketing.

With the co-chair good news and SES San Jose coming up, I thought it would be fitting to tap into the wealth of knowledge between Stewart and Mike to get their take on the future of SES, the industry and how to get the most out of attending search marketing conferences.

Congratulations on your appointments as co-chairs of Search Engine Strategies. Do you get to wear a crown or special medal? Oh wait, Mike has that riding crop thing What’s your grand plan for the future of SES?

Stewart: Grand schemes and plots aside, we’re approaching the whole adventure with a rekindled sense of opportunity and spirit of collaboration.  Rather than relying on convention, we’ll be looking toward those outlying areas where incipient trends act as signals and cues for future content.  Considering that we have the best advisory board in the business, there’s no reason to be timid in how we set our course.

Mike: Actually, I will get one more ribbon to add to my speakers badge. This means that I will now have four and qualify to become dictator of a small South American country. As such, my riding crop thing will be replaced by a scepter and orb. Dictating a small country takes up quite some time, so that’s the main reason that Stew is co chair with me. Somebody has to run the show!

SES 2009You’ve been involved with Search Engine Strategies behind and in front of “the scenes” for a very long time and I’m wondering what it is about SES that keeps you motivated and interested? What’s special about SES San Jose in particular?

Stewart: SES has a coveted history of delivering on educational promises over the years and I’m proud to have played a role in that enduring sense of purpose.  Our goal has always been to immerse attendees in relevant content and inspire them to return.  I guess my motivation stems from the fact that SES is still recognized as a progressive force within the community and I’ve been able to witness that success firsthand for the past eight years.   Since we’re continually refining the content of existing shows and refocusing on what’s truly important to our delegates,  it remains exciting to me.

Regarding SES San Jose, I’m hard pressed to think of another industry event that brings together such a highly engaged and diverse audience on the same scope and scale.  More than just a conference,  SES San Jose  is a one-of-a-kind gathering and party that literally takes place in the industry’s back yard.  Last year proved to be a banner event despite  a recession, bear market and global credit crisis.    This year’s upcoming conference marks our 11th year in San Jose and I’m convinced it could be our best one yet.

Mike: I’ve been a regular speaker a SES for many years now. And until recently (SES, Toronto) I hadn’t missed a single show. The one thing that keeps me motivated most is that, the show attracts so many new entrants into the industry. And to those people every show is  a whole new experience. Both for the learning and the networking. SES is the largest and most recognized brand in search marketing events. So there’s also the prestige that attendees take with them after they have attended a show. There are many, many times I’ve visited with a potential new client and spotted  their SES name badge proudly hanging somewhere in their office.

And certainly, I agree with Stew about the San Jose show. It’s the largest search marketing extravaganza on the planet. And the fact that it’s held in San Jose, which is capital of Silicon Valley and where major search engines such as Google and Yahoo are based, gives it a feel of being in completely the right setting. Oh, and the glorious sunshine doesn’t usually go unnoticed either!

From looking at the SES San Jose schedule it appears to cover a lot of bases for new attendees and veterans alike plus keynotes with Charlene Li, Clay Shirky and Nicholas Fox. There’s also pre and post conference training (such as the SEO/Social Media brain dump on Aug 10, wink wink) What advice do you have for individuals and companies that are trying to decide whether the training or conference or both are the best investment?

Stewart: My advice is to not be intimidated by the sheer magnitude of offerings.  Our broad and deep program makes it possible for each conference delegate to experience a completely unique event, mixing and matching sessions, workshops and tracks.   My expectation is that delegates will walk away with a year’s worth of  firsthand insight in one week.

Mike: Ditto! Stew gets it in one. Some people attend and need to know everything from scratch. Some already know a bit, but want to become practitioners so the training is very important. The show caters for everyone from beginner to advanced.

Speaking of investments, times like these call for getting the most out of paid training and conferences. What tips do you have for attendees, sponsors and exhibitors to get the maximum value from attending an event like SES?

Stewart: True “conference commandos” know that the biggest mistake is to arrive at a conference without a list of goals so my first suggestion would be to do your  homework before arriving.  We typically mail out a sneak preview magazine filled with relevant features, columns and session descriptions prior to each event so this is a great way to get started.  The more precisely you can pinpoint what you desire to gain from the conference, the more effectively you can calibrate  your plan of attack.   The good news is that by bringing together all the relevant personalities and companies under one roof, SES makes it easy for everyone to see how all the pieces fit together.

Also, keep in mind that conversations can be just as valuable as breakout sessions.    Those incidental  dialogues in the hallway and face-to-face networking opportunities are something you really want to leverage.  Content, community and commerce are the building blocks of any successful conference so my advice is to tap into all three while at SES SJ.

Mike: There’s a whole lot of dialogue about the show in so many forums and blogs in the industry that you can get to know an awful lot about the show prior to going there. Search Engine Watch is a great place to catch up with news on speakers and events/additions. We spend a lot of time bringing together the best mix of popular speakers and new talent. Do a search on the speakers names and look for their own blogs and Tweets. One great idea is to check out the Search Engine Strategies video channel at YouTube where you can see past speakers being interviewed as well as attendees talking about their own experiences.

Plus, I don’t have a link, sorry, but I’ll be doing a series of radio interviews leading up to the show on webmaster radio so keep an eye/ear out for that.

And I’m 100% with Stew on the networking thing. The sessions are great but you can always get face time with the speakers during the lunch and coffee breaks. At lunch, for instance, pick out your target speaker and plonk yourself down right next to them at the table and introduce yourself. Honestly, they all expect it. Except for that Lee Odden character who has started charging a fee to sit at his table, I understand J

One really important thing is, try to attend the site clinics. Much smaller sessions but if you don’t mind having your web site deconstructed by leading international search marketing consultants for free (repeat – for free!) …

Let’s change things up and talk about a few industry topics.  What’s the verdict so far on Bing? Is it a Google killer? Does it need to be? Or is it less Coke vs Pepsi and more like Coke and KFC?

Stewart: Algorithm and  index-size wars aside, Cuil is the only Google killer I’m aware of  (tongue planted firmly in cheek).   But seriously, I’m a sucker for onomatopoeia and Bing is a vast name improvement over Windows Live Search which always struck me as a bit clinical.   Aside from that, my understanding is that  Bing’s  search traffic is still light so it’s tough to determine what the long-term impact will be or if Microsoft actually has a robust Google competitor on its hands.   Either way ,  I’m definitely looking forward to the next round of frenetically surreal Bing TV commercials.

Mike: I just  have to hear the words “Google killer” and I want to throw my laptop out of the window. Why do we need a Google killer? What’s wrong with Google? And why can’t the entire planet accept that there  are other search engines doing some fairly unique things that offer an alternative to only having one source of information retrieval on the horizon.

I love Bing with all of my heart and welcome it with open arms. Do I want to sit and compare it with Google all day? Absolutely not. I want Bing to provide me with its own brand of user experience. And from a marketing point of view, I understand the quantity is not comparable, but as people have said a lot about Microsoft – it’s quality traffic.

What do you think of the prospects for Yahoo?  Is it a deal with Microsoft even possible if Yahoo is “not a search company?

Stewart: Whether  Microsoft  will actually acquire Yahoo  is anybody’s guess but I would not be surprised to see some sort of significant partnership occur before the end of the year.  Overall, I think Yahoo’s prospects under Carol Bartz leadership are quite favorable .

Mike: I have no idea why anyone is surprised to hear Carol Bartz say that Yahoo is not a search company. I’ve been saying it and so have they for years! It’s as simple as this: search is one of the many things that Yahoo does. So when people talk about Yahoo only picking the scraps from Google’s table when it comes to search your just comparing apples to oranges. If the whole search industry fell off a cliff tomorrow Yahoo would still be there but Google wouldn’t.

As for the idea of BingHoo! I can see why Microsoft acquiring the search part of Yahoo may have some interesting possibilities. But I don’t think Microsoft needs to acquire the entire yahoo company just to become Google killers…. Aaaaarrrrgggghhh… there goes my laptop out of the window!

Now that SEO has been dead for a while, how long before this social media thing dies out? What comes after that?

Stewart: Headlines like, “Is Digg the Jan Brady of Web 2.0?” certainly lend credence to the notion that life can be ephemeral for social media utilities.  However, I would have to agree with Charlene Li when she says we should concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.  Individual platforms for public conversation  and interaction  like Twitter may come and go but relationships will determine how the power shifts.   Look for our opening keynote in San Jose, Clay Shirky, to shed considerable light on this very topic.

Mike: I’d like to find the person who coined the term social media… And right hook them!  What the heck is it supposed to mean? If I’d written a letter to the editor of the New York Times before the world wide web and had it published, would I have called it “user generated content.” Or was it a letter to the editor? If I dialed into a phone in show on the radio and ranted about the government would that be “user generated content” or “social media” or would it be some guy on a phone in show?

First of all, why is the search marketing industry sticking its nose so far into this, so called, “social media” thing. There they were all happy discussing the daily adventures of googlebot and then all of a sudden they’re media gurus. Here’s the thing Lee, it’s the audience which has changed – not the medium (except it got faster).

So what we need to do, is spend more time understanding the long term information needs of the end user and  how they should receive that. And spend less time talking about who’s going to be the next Twitter killer…. Aaaaaarrrggggghhhhh!! There goes another laptop!

“Social Media” may represent the overused phrase of the year, but with 16.8 Billion online videos watched per month on services like YouTube or Facebook with over 200 million users and Twitter experiencing over 1,300% growth, there’s a lot to talk about that’s social. Where do you think search best fits in when talking about the social web?

Stewart: Rebecca Lieb wrote a great piece about this for the July issue of SES Magazine and I’d have to agree with her when she states that introducing social elements into search adds another layer of complexity but it makes search an even more valuable feedback mechanism.  Likewise, Steve Rubel, recently observed that we’re going to see a major shift in where and how we search for relevant news and information by layering in trusted sources.  Depending on what you read, querying the “social graph” and “the cold mathematics of a Google search” are all part of the mix.

On a more practical note, don’t forget that we have an entire track dedicated to Social Media & Video Strategies on Day 1 in San Jose along with a ClickZ/OMS track on Day 2 which will tackle many of these topics and issues.  I would also encourage folks to attend the “SEO for the Greater Good: Using Search to Find Missing Persons” panel which explores a social media campaign used to generate leads in a missing persons case.

Mike: I’ve written something like seven gazillion words on the subject of where I think search will fit (and yes, mom told me 17.2 million times never to exaggerate).  So, we can stick with Stew’s overview (or you could go and read some of my recent ClickZ columns).

You can’t get through one of these interviews without the dreaded “future” question, so here goes: What will characterize search marketing in 3 or 5 years? Will it be a different ballgame then or more Google dominance, ala Googlezon/Epic? (video )

Stewart: I think we are at a curious intersection in the evolution of search at the moment and it’s pretty  difficult  to predict the future in 3 to 5 years.  Rather than prognosticate, my recommendation would be to attend the “Search: Where to Next?” session taking place on Day 1 in San Jose and hear directly from the experts.  This panel was a high point back at SES NY when Mike Grehan moderated it and I suspect that it will resonate just as profoundly in San Jose.

Speaking of game changers, attendees can also look forward to the “Semantic Technology & Search” session that Dana Todd is moderating.

Mike: I asked a researcher in the information retrieval field (one of the smartest scientists out there) some time ago about where we are currently in search. I gave him a scale of 1-10 with ten being the best that search can ever be. He answered 2 ½ ! So trying to get a handle on where we’ll be in three years is always going to be hard. One thing that everyone should think about is the actual platform and protocol. HTTP and HTML are 20 year old technologies designed for something entirely different to that which current end users frequently expect.

So, my guess, again, pay more attention to the end user and perhaps place a little less emphasis the way information retrieval happens on the web. I’d take a look at Chrome and think about these words that came from a Google researcher:”As we move away from a web of content to a web of applications….” And then ask yourself why Google needs an operating system.

What’s one question I should be asking you? (And the answer of course)

Stewart Q:  Being an amateur oenophile and living in Southern California, are you convinced that Napa wines are criminally overrated?

Stewart A:  That sentiment may be a bit harsh but given the fact that Temecula Valley is the fastest growing wine region in the state and that South Coast Winery has been recognized as the “Best Winery in California” , the answer would be “yes.”  I’ll skip the part about the lower tasting fees and  superior Mediterranean varietals.  ;-)

Mike Q: Who the heck is Mike Grehan?

Mike A: Never heard of him.

Thank you Stewart. We’ll see you and many of our readers at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 10-14. Get more info on the SES San Jose web site here.

TopRank will be providing live blog coverage of SES as well as photos and video interviews, so be sure to subscribe to our Feed.


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