Lee Odden

Reader Poll: Can SES, SMX and Pubcon Coexist?

SES New York Audience

A lot has changed in the search marketing conference industry in the past year. The biggest news being the addition of Kevin Ryan to oversee Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies along with the departure of Danny Sullivan from SES to start his own venture, Third Door Media and the Search Marketing Expo or SMX series of conferences.

Additional news includes the success of new conferences like MediaPost’s Search Insider Summit, programmed by David Berkowitz as well as the reduction in conference dates for Brett Tabke’s WebmasterWorld’s Pubcon down to one (albeit, temporarily) in Las Vegas. With the number of new and niche conferences popping up it begs the question as to whether the market demand can support so many events?

reader poll

Can SES, SIS, SMX, Pubcon and New SEM Conferences Coexist and Succeed?

  • Yes (69%, 65 Votes)
  • No (17%, 16 Votes)
  • Maybe - see my explanation in the comments (14%, 13 Votes)

Total Voters: 94

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Every time someone polls the audience at a SES conference, “How many people are new to the event?”, over 50% raise their hands. It’s a staunch reminder of how many people are in need of an education in the SEM business. Not only is there a need to ramp up on basic knowledge, but there’s a need for ongoing education as well. What other industry changes as often and as frequently as the search marketing business?

At the same time, as established marketing conferences such as the DMA and industry specific events add search marketing sessions to their programming, others such as ad:tech have actually cut back on the overall number of SEO and PPC related offereings.

I for one, am pretty optimistic about multiple conferences being able to succeed financially and in their ability to deliver value to the growing need for search marketing knowledge.

What is your opinion on this? Are there too many options out there? Are the established conferences meeting market demand or are they saturating the industry with too many broad and niche offerings?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Bill Arnovich says

    I believe that the more the merrier.
    I don’t think they are over saturating the market at all.
    I think what they do is deliver more variety, interesting experiences, and more networking opportunities because there really aren’t that many and they deliver more bang for the buck.

  2. At SMX Seattle, 80 plus percent of the crowd raised their hands as being “in-house.” SEO and SEM are increasing being implemented (for better or for worse) in-house. As such, training is becoming increasingly important. All of these conferences provide great basic training, as well as a place to meet expert consultants that can be used as ad hoc issues arise.

  3. I think localized, smaller events, that are focused on specific areas will continue to do well, and will grow. There’s also that market for start-up SEOs and small businesses that are new to it all. Events like PubCon and SES could be overwhelming for newbies.

  4. I too think smaller local events will be the way of the future – I do Local SEO only these days and would like to see Danny and his brigade in the Charlotte, Atlanta Area


  5. As the conference space becomes more competitive, they can only continue to exist if they differentiate themselves from one another in some meaningful way. Perhaps it’ll be based on attendee base, perhaps based on cities/locations, but they must differentiate.

  6. SMX – advanced (and local/specialized)
    Pubcon – advanced (and sparse)
    SES – beginner but I can see them cutting down on the size/number eventually and having to do more smaller local shows and only 3-4 large shows a year

  7. I think there will have to be consolidation. Particularly for exhibtors & sponsors fewer/bigger shows are preferrable. Daver may be right that it just takes the form of specialization, with each circuit developing a brand to hit a particular segment.

  8. With bigger shows, I suspect a lot of the money is made from exhibitors and sponsorships. Niche events can provide specialized information and low operational costs. I would think large events would need substantially more marketing and speaker firepower to attract mass audiences.

  9. I forgot to mention this earlier. Go niche and run a 2-day weekend program for small business owners. A good SEO firm could attract many new clients and “own” an entire space if they stayed focused and ran an efficient program.

  10. My only fear is that, at some point, we’ll all just be talking to ourselves at one of these. But as long as those hands keep going up (from new attendees), we’ll be fine.

  11. Michael, I think that’s spot on. Keep costs low for entry and then provide a weekend of useful info to inspire confidence in your abilities. Some will be able to implement on their own and some will outsource. It’s a model that’s already in place with the High Rankings seminars and several others that recently popped up this year.

  12. Until there’s a solid and consistent educational program set up for SEM — one which can keep up with the rapid pace of change in the field — there will be plenty of room for SEM-focused conferences. The traditional university-type program, with curriculum reviews and all the related difficulties of establishing programs years (or even semesters) in advance simply won’t work – so something needs to step into that educational space.

    The DMA program is one example starting to fill in that space, but at this point there isn’t really a lot out there. A dozen relatively small programs can’t handle the demand. Mass educational opportunities like conferences can fill in the gaps, for the moment.

  13. Having just attended SES San Jose, I don’t see San Jose on the 2008 line-up yet, so maybe that’s part of the “cut back.” I’m looking forward to SMX in Santa Clara and prefer a 3-day venue rather than 4. It’s like eating…snack throughout the day so you can digest and assimilate. I feel like I’ve just eaten a Thanksgiving meal after leaving SES.

    The addition of niche shows is also a plus – attended ClickZ’s Email Marketing Conf in SF and absorbed a lot. Add Internet Retailer Conference to the line-up for e-commerce focus. Multiple shows fill many needs.

    Challenge: Finding time and budget to make it to all the show. Thank God for blogs!

  14. I think we’ll see more people attending more shows, but the mix is going to get larger. Yes, we can continue to support several search related conferences, but there will have to be differentiation between them. In addition, I think we’ll see the same folks attending marketing type shows that aren’t specific to search, rather than attending multiple search related conferences each year. More shows…fewer that are strictly search.

  15. Avatar Charlie Ramsey says

    As always content is king. Which ever show provides the most ROI will win. Its an investment to go to a show and if i don’t get what i pay for i wont go again. So i think these shows are going to have to diffentiate themselfs from each other in order for them to survive together.

  16. Avatar Erica Forrette says

    What I also like about the plethora of conference options (from a content as well as location perspective) is that often times, the smaller, more nichey conferences have different speakers than “the usual suspects” so often featured at the big conferences.

    Yeah, I’m talkin to you Odden. Just kidding! 🙂 The OG speakers are all really good, but it is nice to see some fresh faces on the podium.

  17. One reason I think SES gets so many first-timers/new-to-conferences attendees is that it’s the most ‘corporate’ of the shows, and thus easiest for a lot of people to justify to their leaders. A lot of people I’ve run into at SES events aren’t what we’d consider ‘SEOs’ so much as they’re mainline marketers who have been told they have to worry about web initiatives.

  18. Whew! I have some comment catching up to do!

    Joe, I am of course, biased about the DMA training program and since Matt Bailey is involved with the “architecture” of the Advanced modules, I’m sure it will become a valuable resource for that niche.

    Dana, Donna and Charlie, I am with you on the notion that multiple conferences serve different needs. I think that’s the winning formula in that each conference should focus on specializing in some way. Either with content or the audience they’re serving.

    Erica, you’re such a troublemaker. 🙂 Actually, I’ve had that experience myself when I spoke at Jill Whalen’s workshop and also at Search Insider Summit. It was another group of speakers and refreshing.

    Julie, I think you’re on to something and I know one thing the smaller events could do a much better job of, and that’s their PR. With more media exposure, the niche events would be more credible and it can be a lot easier to “sell the boss” on an event if they’ve heard of it before.

  19. I certainly don’t question that it will become a valuable resource — my question is more concerning the scope of the program. How many people can it really serve? Most of the existing programs are operating on a relatively small scale — conferences help broaden the resources available to learn.

  20. Avatar Mary Bowling says

    Competition is good. It will let the good shows thrive and the poor ones waste away. Like most other things, as long as the buyers perceive good value for their money, they’ll keep coming.

  21. Interesting question and one that my peers @ SEMpdx have a keen interest in. We started our local SEM organization (www.sempdx.org) with the intent to raise the level of awareness & education surrounding SEM in our local market (Portland, Oregon). We put together a full-day multi-track SEM conference of our own (SearchFest) and attracted some pretty good to great speakers including Rand Fishkin, Matt McGhee, Jeff Pruitt, etc. As we plan our 2008 SearchFest event while I continue to regularly attend SES etc, I always begin to wonder when this market is going to reach the complete saturation point. Then we put on another one of our regular monthly events and attendance just keeps growing. Then you ask “who has done keyword research for their site?” or “who knows what a title tag is?” and you get completely baffled & mystified looks. I think we have a long way to go before we hit the saturation point.

  22. Yes for now, I’m not sure later. It’s still very surprising to see the number of people that are becoming more aware of Search Engine marketing and strategies. However, even now we are findiong more and more people that don’t attend those conferences for educational purposes since they are in the know-how, but rather as a networking event. I’ve heard from many attendees that they thought many of the lectures were dull, repetitive, etc. So although there are still many out there (now) that may not have a clue and need that education, but soon enough barrier will filled giving the conferences the challenge of changing direction, adding new information and ideas, and marketing to a new audience at a different level.


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