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SES Chicago Interview: Kevin Ryan and Kevin Heisler

Posted on Nov 29th, 2007
Written by Lee Odden
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    Spotlight on Search: Interview with Kevin Ryan and Kevin Heisler

    What we have for you today is a double scoop, double feature and two times our regular interview spunk involving Kevin Ryan, Global Content Director for Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Watch and Kevin Heisler, Executive Editor of Search Engine Watch. I’ll have to say, there are a few gems in this one, so read on:

    kevin-ryan.jpg kevin-heisler1.jpg
    (Heisler photo credit, Christine Churchill)

    Let’s cut to the chase on SES Chicago and Pubcon happening at the same time this year. I am not sure most people realize it was not intended to happen that way. Do you anticipate there being much of an effect on attendance? How different are the audiences these two events are attempting to attract?

    RYAN: I am not aware of any other conferences at this time <grins>.

    In all seriousness, it’s hard to maintain the lead while looking over your shoulder. I know I have said this before, our time is better spent focusing on creating and executing the best conference possible.

    SES Chicago is tracking ahead of last year’s attendance. I won’t speculate on anyone else’s targeting desire, but SES is open to anyone interested in learning more about the impact of search and interactive marketing.

    HEISLER: Most people not aware? Guess we’ll have to shoulder some of the blame: Search Engine Watch doesn’t cover conference scheduling, trade show attendance estimates, or actual show attendance. Why not? Our readers and Search Engine Watch members attend conferences to learn, network, and have fun.

    They’re interested in helping each other solve search marketing problems: strategic and tactical. The numbers they care about: cost per acquisition, cost per lead, cost per order, click through and conversion rates, quality scores, algorithms, percentage of gross profit margins, and predictive modeling, to name a few.

    Not surprisingly, the conference business doesn’t interest them.

    Now that Search Engine Strategies has entered a new era, can you share some insight on the strategic direction and differentiation of the conference from what it was in the past and perhaps, in comparison to other events? With the companies represented on the advisory board, it appears there’s a shift in focus from search marketing agencies and practitioners to maybe more of a corporate marketing and brand focused audience.

    RYAN: I think you have been reading too many agenda driven / axe grinding blog entries <more grins>.

    There are a couple of points I’d like to make here:

    1. The advisory board was always meant to complement the existing SES faculty. I have been pretty clear about this since day one.
    2. The search world has — and will continue to — grow very quickly around the world. I can’t imagine anything more self serving and arrogant than trying to maintain a search autocracy. There are quite a few pioneers in the search space but ignoring (or attempting to limit) the expansion of the discipline into mainstream marketing and communications along with the changes that have occurred as a result of this expansion would be a serious mistake for anyone in the space.

    Many of the folks on the advisory board carry pretty hefty titles. A few of the advisory board members have been SEO practitioners since the early days of search. I am grateful that so many people, representing a broad spectrum of senior and junior managers in brands to SEO’s and agencies have agreed to help shape SES.

    HEISLER: My hunch is the strategic direction and differentiation of search engines would be of more interest to your readers. That’s what made TopRank blog a premier destination for search marketers. None of your top 10 posts focuses on conference scheduling. [Lee: Sure, but the interview is about SES Chicago, not the SEM industry…]

    The SES advisory board? Corporate governance can be almost as thrilling as the conference business.

    It’s easy to read too much into the choice of advisors. If it had been up to me to select a search engine strategies advisory board, here are the companies and people I might have chosen: a couple general partners of venture capital and angel investment firms; a couple university presidents; a couple execs from manufacturing companies, let’s say biotechnology and semiconductors.

    But hey, that’s just me – and Google. (See Google Board of Directors.) Clearly Google intended to build the first university where students received vocational training in manufacturing.

    Obligatory loaded question: What are you more excited about with SES Chicago – freezing to death on your way to a blues bar or listening to Seth Godin do his magic ala Meatball Sundae?

    RYAN: There are a number of things I am excited about and I am happy to share some warming thoughts. Seth’s brand of guidance is very popular right now as it appears the marketing world is favoring non-nonsense sound advice. Go figure. I’ve read the book and I think it’s his best yet. Did I mention SES is the only place you get a pre-release copy of the book? [Lee: Awesome!]

    It’s hard to play favorites.

    Don Schultz’s keynote on Monday should be pretty enlightening and he’s a great speaker. Don is also a man that is known for offering practical advice. The Orion panels are engineered to speak the strategic nature of the SES brand and facilitate setting the tone for the rest of the week’s sessions. Some of the most popular sessions are coming back along with many new ones designed to offer both strategic insight and practical advice you can put to work right away.

    I am more of a Chicago steak house kind of guy, but then again, the blues bars are nice.

    HEISLER: Freezing to death in Chicago? Odd question from an SEO who hails from Minnesota. 😉 On Mon Dec 3 it’s 21°/9° in Minneapolis. C’mon down south to Chi-town where it’ll be 20 – 25 degrees warmer next week.

    I saw Seth speak in Vegas earlier this year — Caesars Palace, interactive agency client summit. The audience made more money taking his advice than the casinos made from the audience. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

    You’re both fairly new (to Incisive Media). What’s the best thing about working for Incisive Media? (Here’s your chance to score BIG points guys)

    RYAN: I’d have to say the administrative quagmires associated with working in a large corporate environment are the most entertaining aspects for me. <innate sarcasm>

    I think the “group of suits” and “big corporate” misconception has been spun a bit too hard in this instance. The SES and ClickZ crew is pretty tight and though we work within a larger company, it feels pretty cozy. Aside from that, anyone that works with me knows that I spend most of my time working in my favorite jeans and t-shirt. There are a lot of people behind the scenes at SES that help carry the workload. The best part of my job is working with such a tight knit group of forward thinking people.

    HEISLER: Helping new stars rise in the industry. Getting back in touch with friends who attended SES San Jose with me in ‘03: Anne Kennedy, Christine Churchill, Mike Grehan. Conducting the first-ever SEW members survey. Rebuilding the SEW Forums with Frank Watson. Helping readers solve search marketing problems. Readers, SEW Experts, and SEW members helping me solve’s SEO challenges. Great team, great people, great search community.

    From the agenda for SES Chicago, there appears to be increased attention on strategy with the Strategic Development Workshops while continuing to maintain a tactical focus with sessions on days 2, 3 and 4. Do you see SES evolving into more of a strategic marketing issues conference?

    RYAN: Ideally, we should have both at every conference. You shouldn’t have tactics without a sound strategy to support them. More and more search practitioners at the tactical level in organizations are approaching me hungry for strategic insight. One of my goals is to help facilitate their growth at the trade-professional level while offering both high and low level insights.

    HEISLER: “Search Engine Tactics” and “Search Engine Tips & Tricks” don’t cut it anymore. Google Webmaster Central does a fantastic job teaching companies how to do their SEO in-house. Matt Cutts, Adam Lasnik, and the GWC team are squeezing the Snake Oil out of SEO. MSN Live Search and Yahoo have followed suit. APIs, algorithms and ad platforms govern the optimization of paid search.

    What’s left? Integration of SEO and Paid Search with other forms of marketing – online and offline — in a holistic strategy.

    Plus, it’s Search on a global scale.

    It appears that attention to social media is tempered in the programming for SES Chicago compared to past SES events. Is this indicative of a position the conference is taking overall regarding social media’s place in the marketing mix? Do you think there’s too much hype over marketing with social media?

    RYAN: I think social media could use some tempering <why stop with the sarcasm now?>

    The social space is still in its infancy yet to an extent, the phrase “social media” has become a catch-all in an attempt to label marketing and communications disciplines that have existed (in some cases) for decades. It would be pretty self serving and gratuitous for SES to slap a social label on every session while foolish for us to ignore its impact.

    We have several sessions focused on (or inclusive of) the social aspects of integrated marketing, including an Orion panel. From search and privacy in the digital age to link building and getting real insights into blended search, the social aspects of marketing and search are connected and very well represented in Chicago.

    HEISLER: The best conferences focus on top-line revenues and bottom-line profits. On how search marketers can increase both.

    Social search drives revenue by helping people find content online – products, services, information – that they’re looking for. Sometimes it’s a “broad match” search: a cool video, new dance moves, the hottest new gadget. Whether the search results are generated by a human (Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube) or an algorithm (auctioned media), it’s all about search.

    Search Engine Watch will publish one of the first verified case studies on how social media can drive traffic and increase conversions. It’s a case study defining the new social media metrics with actionable strategies and tactics.

    Very few companies measure the impact social media has on revenue and profits. When that happens, there will be lots to discuss at conferences.

    [Lee: A social media centric case study will be refreshing as there don’t seem to be enough.]

    Please list your top 3 reasons for attending SES Chicago.


    1. Four (five if you are attending SES training) days of industry gurus and experts sharing key insights
    2. SEMPO is serving drinks
    3. My boss will get really upset with me if I don’t go


    1. Conversations with hundreds of former clients, colleagues and competitors, now — all friends
    2. Asking Search Engine Watch readers what we can do to help them do their jobs better
    3. Introducing new columns by rising industry stars: Catfish, C-Level, Nuke ‘Em, Material Girl,, Downhill Racer, Eli’s coming, and so’s Search CrossFire

    Heard of Smith & Wesson? We’ve got Boggs & Watson in the house. Champagne on the house.

    Oh yeah. And “Foosball Wizards,” a Matt McGowan production.

    Thanks guys.

    For more conference schedule and registration information on the Search Engine Strategies conference happening in Chicago Dec 3-7, visit the SES Chicago site.