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5 SEM Booty Predictions for 2015


Even though hoverboards, flying cars and power laces may not see the light of day this year, Back to the Future II made some pretty good predictions about 2015 including 3D experiences, video chat and wearable glass technology.

So in honour of all things DeLorean, here are my search and social marketing predictions for the year ahead:

1. In Facebook, it will be the paid way or the highway

Gone are the days when companies could post a message on their Facebook page and have every page liker see it in their news feed.

With more and more content flooding people’s feeds, organic posts on Facebook will become a waste of time and the only way for businesses to effectively reach their audiences through Facebook marketing will be through paid ads.

2. More companies will recognize that SEO, Content and Social Media are not mutually exclusive

In 2014, everyone and their grandmothers jumped onto the content bandwagon. For consumers there was so much content noise that information gems became harder to find, and many companies who had developed great content were struggling to reap the rewards.

In 2015, businesses will work harder to cut through the noise and get their content found through more thoughtful social strategies and end-to-end search engine optimization. Those businesses who apply SEO – not just as an afterthought but throughout the entire content development process (from subject identification to how and where content is served) – will be the ones who see most success in 2015.

3. Reporting on social media ROI will become a requirement, not a nicety

With companies allocating more budget towards social media, further fueled by the shift from organic to paid methods, questions around the measurable return on social media spend (and how this compares to other marketing channels), will become ripe. CMOs and finance departments will be demanding answers.

2015 will see the introduction of more tools (from both networks and developers) that help businesses to better track and understand, not just simple engagement measures, but the monetary ROI on social media spend.

4. The “year of wearable technologies” will replace the “year of mobile”

Ever since the release of the iPhone in 2007, search marketers raved about the year of mobile. Each year, it became as painful to hear as the “SEO is dead” mantra. But in 2014, desktop search declined by $1.4 billion as people shifted to mobile (eMarketer, 2014) and for the first time ever, mobile usage overtook desktop. After seven years, the “year of mobile” had finally arrived. So what next?

The “year of wearable technologies” of course! With Apple’s release of the Apple Watch this year, wearable technologies will become available not just to the Scoble’s of the world, but to everyone. And while the mass adoption of wearable search will come much, much later, 2015 will see the start of glanceable content, a further evolution of mobile ranking factors, and more advanced map optimization (including super-specific location and distance factors). Suddenly, local search will become a whole lot more important to all businesses – local and global. With this, expect more pigeon updates in our not-so-distant future.

5. Search marketing becomes a necessary skill across all departments

In order for search to become truly effective, it can no longer operate within a siloed department. Search marketing knowledge will become more of a sought after skill across all marketing functions. And as savvy search marketers work to educate and incorporate search practices, SEO will start to become much more integrated across marketing, web and IT departments.

With this, kneejerk reactionary tactics (in a “Quick! Let’s update all of our sites to https!” fashion) will decline as marketers focus more upon creating fundamentally good content built primarily around user (not just engine) experience.

What are your predictions for 2015?

3 Important Lessons from 2014


In 2014, we made trillions of searches and Google (with all of their paydays, pigeons, penguins, pandas, and pirates) ended up making 13 algorithm updates this year alone, which surprisingly clocks in at a much lower count compared to years past.

So with the new year rolling in, what were the key lessons I learned in 2014?

1. SEO is part of a much bigger story

I’ve been in the SEO space for around seven years now yet I continue to learn something new everyday when it comes to the latest techniques, tactics and ongoing Google updates. But despite all of the changes that are happening with SEO, the fundamentals (just like marketing) remain the same: it’s about creating relevant, valuable content for your audience and demonstrating this relevance to the search engines.

So this past year in particular, I’ve learned that while staying up to date is important, what’s more important is to understand how SEO integrates with the entire marketing mix (beyond PPC and social media), particularly when it comes to content marketing. And perhaps even more important is helping your organization understand how to apply SEO across all work, since SEO cannot succeed if it operates within a silo (and vice versa).

2. Accurately predicting organic website traffic is not as straightforward as it used to be

Although estimating organic traffic has always involved a certain degree of finger in air estimation, applying one average percentage, depending on rank, often got you close enough. But as time go by, it has become even more challenging to closely predict, as CTR becomes increasingly affected by so many more factors, including:

  • Local/national/international results
  • Desktop searches
  • Branded vs. unbranded searches
  • Short vs. mid vs. long-tail searches
  • Searches based on different stages of intent
  • Impact of PPC ads on CTR

This is why I jumped with joy when I came across a wonderful organic CTR estimation tool towards the end of this year. It was developed from a study by Advanced Web Ranking which looked at the impact of blended search results on organic CTR in 2014. I see this getting a lot of use in 2015.

3. Failures provide the lessons that will set you on a better path

The world of digital and search marketing is so fast-moving that change is the only constant. In order for us to grow within our profession, we must find ways to live outside of our comfort zone, and gain experiences that extend beyond our search marketing bubble in order to remain innovative in our thinking.

As part of this process, things can’t always be plain sailing. It is important for us to make mistakes, learn from them, never give up, and with this be prepared to take the risk of uncertainty. What 2014 taught me was that sometimes it is ok to get things wrong and learn from it, rather than to be complacent and always wonder, “what if”. And for those people who do you wrong, karma will always get them in the end.

How to Make Your Content Work Harder: An SEO and Content Mapping Model


Often, the hardest part about SEO is not your SEO skill set, but more the ability to apply and integrate SEO techniques into your every day marketing approach. Take content marketing as an example. “Content is king”, a commonly used (and often abused) expression, has helped to fuel a content marketing explosion, with varying degrees of quality when it comes to output. But with so much content being created, are you doing enough to ensure your content can be found?

Content audits are wonderful for showing and understanding where your content pieces fit within the buyer journey, and for identifying content gaps and opportunities. Often these audits are applied to Email nurture streams, to tell a cohesive story that helps to move prospects through the funnel. But if it isn’t taking SEO into account, particularly for those mass of unknown people who are yet to become prospects, there’s a good chance that it isn’t working as hard as it could be for you.

This is where a combined search and content mapping model can be handy. Taking a common marketing funnel approach (Learn/Research/Buy/Use) you can not only start to map out where content fits within the buyer journey, but also the types of searches that you need to consider and optimize content development for, in order for your content to get found.


FIG 1: SEO and Content Mapping Model [Click on Image to Enlarge]

The key components of the model include:

Search: Trigger Keywords

Trigger keywords provide insight into searcher intent. These are words that searchers use to narrow down their search when they have an idea of the kind of information they are looking for. Trigger words really help to provide clues to their intent, so we can better match up content that is relevant to them.

Search: Assist Keywords

Assist keywords also provide clues, but these clues are more implied through the kinds of search a person makes, as opposed to specific triggers. For example, a general category keyword search (EG: car, camera, laptop) indicates more of a discovery/educational need; versus a brand search (EG: Ford, Nikon, Apple) which can indicate more of a research need; versus a model/nomenclature search (EG: Ford Focus, Nikon Coolpix, MacBook Air) which indicates more of a purchasing need.


Within this model, it starts to become clear as to how different content types align with search and the overall buyer journey. As you start to map content out, don’t forget about content that helps to support existing customers since these customers are much easier to resell to compared to acquiring new ones.

Within this, you can also start to consider specific vehicles for delivery of content. For example, YouTube is a great video vehicle for early education (learn phase). However, as people start to move more towards buying and using, videos housed on a company website can often work better due to the increased level of content control and fewer “dancing cat” distractions.

5 Steps to Measurable B2B ROI

Marketing ROI

When it comes to digital marketing, measures like search engine rank, website visits, conversions and leads only tell half of the story. What the C-Suite really want to know is the ultimate KPI: how much is marketing really contributing towards the business? Marketing leaders in particular are looking to show the value of the marketing department as a profit (not a cost) centre.

For e-commerce, this process is pretty straightforward. But in terms of B2B offline sales, it can be more of a challenge. To get started, here are 5 key steps to help guide you in the right direction:

1. Closed-Loop Sales Process

This step is essential, but the most difficult. Having a closed-loop sales process needs to be driven from the top of the organization by the CMO or VP of Marketing and their sales counterpart, to ensure that all sales people are appropriately:

  • Indicating when a lead becomes an opportunity
  • Applying a sales value to the opportunity
  • Closing out the opportunity with a won/lost status

Positive reinforcement of sales behavior is important, particularly when this process is first rolled out. Often this is achieved through various incentives and ensuring it is included within everyone’s annual performance plans.

2. Marketing Campaign Codes

Campaign codes are used to show where a marketing lead derives from – be it an event, email, telemarketing, the web, or elsewhere. Marketing campaign codes are pretty standard practice in most organizations. No lead should exist within the marketing database without one.

3. Web Tracking Parameters

Marketing campaign codes only tell you the very broadest source of a marketing inquiry so for something like the “web”, this is a pretty big bucket.

Did these people come to the website directly? Or did they come through search engines, display advertising, social media, or from another website as a referral? This level of visibility can be achieved through URL tracking codes.

Tracking parameters that are particularly useful to capture include:

  • Source (referrer information): EG: Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
  • Medium: EG: ppc, seo, paid-social, organic-social

Google’s URL builder can be used to help build out parameter information.

4. Marketing and Sales Database Fields

These codes then need to be passed into an appropriate field in your marketing/sales database so that the information is incorporated within the inquiry/lead record and carried through to the opportunity being closed out by sales.

5. Ongoing Reporting

Finally, monthly reporting (accompanied by weekly run rate reports) will help you to keep track of the marketing contribution to sales numbers and provide ongoing visibility throughout the organization.

Once this process is in place, the output can:

  • be used to show true ROI (marketing spend vs. sales orders in monetary terms)
  • be used to project ROI in order to justify marketing investment
  • provide a useful framework to pitch for more budget (missed opportunities as a result of not spending enough)

In-house or Outsource? The Benefits of Taking Digital Marketing to an Agency

In-house or Agency?

The question of, “Do I attempt to complete this work with in-house resources vs. getting an agency to help?” is a dilemma that comes up often, particularly when it comes to digital marketing. Here are some benefits I’ve personally experienced when it comes to taking work out to an agency.

1. Get access to deep expertise across multiple disciplines and sub-disciplines

As an in-house digital marketer, lots of varied demands are placed onto you every day, and often we are required to dabble in different areas in a Jack-of-All trades way. In a prior in-house role, I had responsibility for all paid, earned and owned digital marketing. Although I was pretty comfortable on the search, social and analytics side, I was less clued up when it came to affiliates and media partners.

This is where agencies can make great partners. Not only do they have people with deep subject area expertise, but also people who are experts within subject sub-disciplines. For example, you can be good at SEO – but are you equally an expert at SEO strategy, keyword research, site audits, on-page SEO, technical SEO, content marketing, social amplification, or link development? Because these have become such deep subject areas in themselves, it can often be hard for you to be a true expert across all.

2. Keep your projects on schedule

It’s a sad state of affairs that whenever times got tough, one of the first roles to go within the marketing department at the companies I worked for was the Project Manager. We’d then often end up wondering why a project that should have taken three months to complete was knocking on the two year mark, with no end in sight. Go figure.

Good agency partners know the value of experienced Project Managers and are committed to keeping your project on track – their profitability depends on it. Having recently spent a bit of time in an agency, it has been interesting to see how on-time completion within every major and micro project milestone truly counts when it comes to getting campaigns out on time. You really can’t put a price on having good Project Managers on your side.

3. Benefit from flexible resources

Keeping projects in-house may mean saving money on agency services. However, often that also means you don’t get to spend money on bringing in additional resources in-house either. So the additional workload then gets placed onto existing members of the team who already have their plates full of other projects that take higher priority. Is it worth the saving vs. getting things done well and on time? Things that will ultimately help drive more business. Sometimes it may be, but mostly I’ve found not.

4. Get access to best (and next) in class practices

Agencies work with varied clients, some highly mature in the digital marketing space. These many different experiences really help to build up knowledge around best and next practices along the way. So why reinvent the wheel? From performance benchmarks to more efficient processes and testing out new ideas and theories, you get access to key learnings and expert help from your agency to supercharge your own digital marketing efforts.

What have your experiences been when it comes to taking work out to an agency vs. keeping it in-house?

Beyond Google Keyword Planner: 5 Free Tools Every SEO Should Keep in their Back Pocket

SEO Toolbox

Most people who are familiar with the concept of Search Engine Optimization will know about the Google Keyword Planner. However, many in the search world were not too happy with the loss of Google’s Keyword Tool to Keyword Planner last year, forcing SEOs and search marketers to turn to other alternatives to get additional levels of insight. So what other tools are out there that can help you with your search efforts? Here are five of my favourite:

1. YouTube Keyword Tool Alternative 

Video has, and continues to be, a great way to rank high in the search engine results. However, Keyword Planner is not video-specific and I’ve always found YouTube’s keyword suggestion tool rather limited, particularly when it comes to researching any non-mass consumer segment area. The YouTube Keyword Tool Alternative uses YouTube’s autocomplete feature to help you find longer tail keywords that users type into YouTube’s search box.

As you can see from the example below for “data center”, it provides autocomplete suggestions based on your query. Given the nature of video, very often you see suggestions based around educational themes, such as “fundamentals” and “tutorials”. I’ve found this to be a great research tool for video SEO that can uncover good ideas for video content and topics based upon what users are looking for.

YouTube Keyword Tool Alternative

2. FAQ Fox

If you want to find questions your target audience are asking, then FAQ Fox is the tool for you. Input your topic, select or type in a URL and FAQ Fox presents you with questions that these people are asking. One of the big benefits is that you are seeing exactly how people are typing in the question and the language they use, uncensored and all.

Very often, these are questions that users aren’t finding a good answer for in the search results, so again it is a great research tool that can help guide content development efforts.

FAQ Fox Example

 3. Mozbar

Do you want to see key SEO site metrics at a glance every time you conduct a search? Mozbar is the best way to see metrics such as domain authority, page authority, link counts, social metrics, and more — all of the basics to help you understand a page’s ranking ability.

I love this tool for the easy competitive comparisons that show why certain pages rank higher than others and how easy or difficult it would be to rank for a particular keyword. Mozbar is available as a plug-in for Firefox and Chrome.

Mozbar Example

4. SEO Book’s Rank Checker

If you don’t have the budget for an Enterprise SEO tool and are having to check up on keyword rank, then make sure to use Rank Checker.

Rank Checker is a handy Firefox plug-in that allows you to quickly see where you and/or your competitors are ranking for a keyword, and which page is ranking. It covers all Google country domains and some Yahoo country domains. I’ve used this tool for a number of years now (even alongside enterprise SEO tools). I found this particularly useful when going through optimization and comparison exercises for international SEO projects.

Rank Checker Example

5.  MobileDev HQ

Over the past few years, we’ve seen how much mobile apps have taken off, giving rise to a new kind of optimization; commonly known as App Store Optimization (ASO).

Having dabbled a little in ASO, I’ve found MobileDevHQ to be a pretty handy tool when it comes to keyword app store discovery and ongoing monitoring. Their helpful dashboards and summary emails cover things such as: Top 5 keywords by ranking change, ratings added in the last 24 hours, and actual app downloads. With the free version of the tool, the number of keywords you are able to track are unlimited and you can access up to three months of historical data.

MobileDevHQ Example

What are your favourite free SEO tools?

Why App Store Optimization (ASO) is a Must for All Mobile App Developers


Mobile apps now account for more than half of all time spent on digital media (comScore, 2014). With over 2 million mobile apps and growing, many companies – from small startups to big retailers, airlines, financial firms, and more – are jumping on the mobile app bandwagon. But according to Forbes, only 0.01% of consumer mobile apps will be considered a financial success.

Amidst the excitement of mobile app development, often times companies take the “build it and they will come” mentality and give less thought (or more after thought) about how their app will actually get found by users.

The truth is, more apps are found through app store searches than by any other method – 63% according to Forrester research. This is why App Store Optimization (ASO) is such a critical component when it comes to your app strategy. If you are not optimizing your app for search, then you are missing out big time.

So how do you optimize a mobile app for search?

1. Conduct Keyword Research

As with traditional SEO, it all starts with keyword research. Doing your research up front will help you understand what words and phrases users are searching for in volume and relevance, as well as in terms of competition level. If you are looking for a mobile app keyword research/monitoring tool, my favorite is MobileDevHQ but I’ve also heard good things about Sensor Tower.

2. Optimize Your App Title and Description

Once you have your keyword phrase identified, make sure that you include the keyword in the title and description – as you would with standard HTML and video SEO. The description is also a good place to include any additional or secondary keywords that you may have identified as part of your research.

3. Drive Downloads

Number of app downloads is an important factor when it comes to mobile app rank since downloads is an indicator of app popularity. The thinking being that the more popular an app, the more relevant it is likely to be for the searcher. This can cause quite a quandary when your app is just starting out, particularly when you are competing with well-established apps that have many downloads.

Paid social methods, particularly Facebook app ads, are a good way to reach and segment a high volume of potential app users. The reach and targeting options of Facebook is unparalleled, not to mention that 78% of Facebook users are mobile.


An Example of Facebook’s Mobile App Ads

However, many app developers do not see paying for ads as a worthwhile investment, particularly when comparing the cost per click amounts to the revenue earned per app download — the average paid app retails for around $0.99. However, sometimes it is important to think beyond the initial low (or sometimes negative) returns. Rather, as with all SEO, this upfront investment helps to increase visibility and drive up downloads, which can help organic visibility in the long-term.

4. Encourage Ratings and Reviews

Whilst social signals can be positively correlated with SEO rank, ratings and reviews are a definite factor when it comes to ASO rank. Of course, the number of ratings and reviews that you secure will be dependent on your number of app downloads (another reason why paid social ads is often worth the upfront investment).

This is why it is important to encourage your existing users to rate your app when they are using it – this is a tactic often seen in many popular gaming apps such as The Sims, Smurf Village and Angry Birds. But remember, when it comes to ratings and reviews, ASO cannot help when it comes to the actual quality and usefulness of your app; it can’t polish a turd.

These are just some of the basics that you need to be thinking about when it comes to App Store Optimization. As digital marketers, we need to remember that as with SEO, ASO is also a long-term effort and investment, but definitely an important and worthwhile one.

5 Digital Marketing Stats That Every Marketer Should Know

1. Digital marketing budget is expected to increase to over half of a company’s overall marketing budget by 2016 (source: IDC)


More companies are realizing the power, efficiency, and accountability that digital marketing activities can bring and this is being reflected in the amount of investment over time. With buyer journeys becoming more complex and unique, companies are realizing that they must show up at the right time, in the right place, and more often.

Being where customers are searching and consuming content is critical, and a lot of this is taking place online. According to Google’s Shopper Sciences study, “The largest hub for every category was online search. No matter where consumers entered their journey, they touched down on search at least once, and usually many times”.

2. Mobile users check their phone 150 times each day (source: Huffington Post)


Admit it, most of us own multiple devices and we go to bed with our mobile phones. According to SAP, there are now more mobile devices than what there are people on Earth. It is difficult to ignore the rise of mobile usage and the impact that it will have on your marketing efforts.

As we are reminded that more searches will come from mobile than desktop in 2015, not to mention the penalties that Google say they are applying to non-mobile friendly sites, the time to get your company’s mobile presence in order is fast running out.

3. Apps continue to dominate the mobile web with 86% of time spent (source: Flurry)


From airlines, hotels, insurance companies, banks and Fortune 500 companies to small businesses and start-ups, mobile app development has gone through the roof – some more useful and well-thought out than others. With over 2 million mobile apps in the app store (and growing), app store optimization is becoming increasingly important for companies and app developers who want to get found.

4. Social Media is the most powerful content distribution channel (source: Business Insider)


  • …83,333 links are shared
  • …85,000 comments are left
  • …54,976,850 pieces of content are posted or shared

With stats like these, the power of social media (and the growing correlation of social factors on SEO) as a content distribution system cannot be ignored. But with this, companies have to remember that we can no longer rely on just organic social media to drive results. The development of well-targeted paid social advertising is an important driving force when it comes to social media.

5. Photos increase sharing, with 27% of photo tweets being retweeted (source: Twitter)


Pictures really do speak a thousand words, especially when it comes to social media. In a study looking at the effects on retweets (tweets that are re-shared with a person’s followers), tweets that included a photo URL came out on top, further reinforcing the power of imagery in social media. It’s no wonder why sites such as Instagram and Pinterest have grown in popularity. In a study by ROI Research, 44% of respondents were more likely to engage with brands if they posted pictures compared to any other media.

4 Lessons from the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit NYC

Digital Innovation Summit

This month I attended the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit in beautiful New York City. This is the first time that I attended a more general digital marketing conference that wasn’t specifically focused upon search and social disciplines.

It was refreshing to hear several sessions from a client’s perspective and that many of the challenges client companies are facing likely aren’t that much different to your own. Here are my four key takeaways from the summit.

1. Digital Marketing is Everyone’s Job

Digital marketing cannot be operated within a silo; it spans horizontally across organizations, touching many different areas within marketing and sales. Price Floyd, VP of Digital Marketing at BAE Systems, went as far to say that in the future, digital-specific roles like his within companies would go away.

BAE Systems rely on their employees to moderate their social community. What they initially found was that fear is the biggest obstacle for getting employees to adopt and support company social media efforts. This is why internal training programs are so important to teach best practices, provide tips and tricks on how to get set up and running, and have guidelines in place to prevent any potential social media mishaps that can cause havoc with a company’s reputation.

2. Use Social Media as a Content Distribution System

There is no doubt that these past couple of years, content has been the new darling of the digital marketing world. So much so that companies are struggling to keep up with an increasing appetite for content. However, content by itself is worthless unless you have promotion behind it – driving traffic to the content on your site, using it in a way that builds relationships with your prospects, and ultimately creating sales.

Bloomberg found that social media is the most important form of news distribution, helping them to demonstrate thought leadership amongst their audience. Forbes readers no longer just consume content, they share it with their networks & participate through comments. Content visits and social sharing was so important to Forbes that they adapted their reporter compensation model based on the number of visitors to site and articles shared.

However, an important note to make is that we can no longer rely on just organic social media to drive results. I think Marty Weintraub put it best in his ClickZ New York session: “Search PPC is to SEO as Social PPC is to content marketing. Social media without advertising just doesn’t work.”

3. Have a Clear Strategy That Utilizes Digital Maturity Models

According to Booz and co, 49% of companies are distracted and surprisingly two-thirds of companies do not know what to do.

When it comes to business strategy, companies must have a clear strategy, own this strategy (not outsource it or let an agency define it) and most importantly stand behind it. The importance of understanding the larger goal from a business perspective, in order to shape the tactics and success measures that you subsequently use, almost goes without saying but unfortunately is often forgotten. For example, when it comes to social media, the question you have to ask is: What is your business goal? (not what is your social media goal?).

A strong strategy will help to provide a company with focus, especially amid all of the digital distractions. One good method to help maintain focus is to understand where your organization’s level of digital maturity is currently at. You can then align resources and analytics with your digital maturity model and use this to inform your longer term roadmap.

For example, if your organization is still in the planning phase of maturity, then you may require outside expertise from a digital marketing agency and utilize basic metrics like visits and conversions. Whereas if your organization is in the advanced phase of maturity, then you may have teams of vertical in-house PPC/SEO/Social Media/Content specialists and utilize attribution and predictive analysis.

4. Do Not Underestimate the Important Role of Agencies

The question of in-house vs. outsource is a topic that comes up every once in a while, particularly as organizations look to make more efficient use of their marketing budgets.

It is important to combine what is inside of your company with fresh, outside perspective and ensure ongoing cover and continuity, especially when you are still building the foundations of digital marketing within your organization.

Whilst the numbers may look good on paper, remember that not all of the smart people work for your company — all companies (even the mighty Google) get outside help. Good agencies have a high level of deep expertise and will be the ones keeping up-to-date with all the latest goings-on in the ever-changing digital marketing industry.

What makes a conference worth attending? Lessons from a serial conference attendee


Despite an abundant amount of information online, coupled with Twitter and other news delivery feeds, conferences are still an important and necessary source of education.

Conferences help to:

  • Open your mind to fresh ideas and different perspectives
  • Facilitate best practice sharing, not just limited to your company
  • Keep you up to date with the latest news and goings-on
  • Allow personal interaction with your peers, thought-leaders and industry-known figures (“Matt Cutts – OMG!”)

When you start to get a few conferences under your belt, you soon start to realize that some are out of this world amazing, whereas others make you think, “Wow, that’s two days of my life that I’ll never get back again”.

So other than a tropical beach location and catchy session-filler music, here’s a list of essentials that I look for to help separate the good from the bad.

1. I don’t just want the latest and greatest. Are there also lessons that will stand the test of time?

It’s always good to hear the most up-to-date news and changes going on in an industry, particularly in fast-moving areas like search and social marketing. But with so many changes happening so often, things can become out of date relatively quickly.

I’ve always found the most conference value from topics that stand the test of time. A good example of this was the 5 Stages of SEO Maturity model from SES Conference & Expo. Even though I saw this session several years ago, I still find myself applying this model today.

2. One size does not fit all. Has the content been tailored to different experience levels and has this been communicated clearly by the event organizers?

There’s nothing more disappointing than being geared up for a conference expecting one thing, only for it to end up being something completely different — particularly when it comes to topic levels being either too basic, or so complicated that it leaves you confused.

Conferences that match their content to experience levels of the audience, and clearly communicate this up front, really help to set the right expectations for attendees so that they aren’t wasting time and training budget. Sometimes it isn’t immediately clear by reading through the session descriptions whether a session is going to be skimming the surface of the topic or getting into the real, technical grit.

What I like about SearchFest is that their session tracks clearly indicate beginner, intermediate, or advanced. I also love SMX Advanced because I know it’s going to be skipping the basics and jumping right into meaty discussions. They also split out their tracks by key topic areas, including Paid Search, SEO, Local, Social and Mobile.

3. I’m here to learn. Are the actual topics really relevant to what I care about and do they carry substance?

When I go to a conference to learn, I’m not that interested in company sales pitches or session fillers. What is important is whether the topics being covered are relevant, timely, and provide enough substance in the time allocated.

There’s nothing more boring for an audience than having to listen to a presenter:
a.) Do a blatant sales pitch for themselves or their company
b.) Spend the entire session telling the audience how great they are

I think you’d agree that as paying attendees we are there to learn things, not there for the hard sell. The best way for people to sell themselves or their company at a conference is to teach us something we can use to make us heroes and blow away our targets. If they can do that, then we will remember them.

4. I want to listen to a speaker who can captivate an audience. Is there a strong keynote and speaker line-up?

Audiences can often tell within a few moments whether a speaker knows their stuff or not. Throwing out general statements like, “LinkedIn helps your SEO” just doesn’t cut it. I often find that a good speaker doesn’t just speak about theory and strategy but can also demonstrate that they have been in the weeds, gotten their hands dirty, even made mistakes along the way. It makes for a more credible talk.

There are definitely people and speakers that draw crowds – and rightfully so – but variety is also good. If, like me, you saw that same speaker the last time, and the time before that, and the time before the time before that… you can quickly start to lose interest.

In addition, coming from a client company, I don’t just want to hear from agencies all the time. I also want to hear things from the client perspective. A healthy mix of agency and client representation makes for better appeal since client attendees relate to the challenges faced by other clients, not agencies… and especially not agencies who whine about their clients.

5. I don’t just want to hear theory, I want real world examples. Most importantly, are these examples going to be applicable to my company?

Hearing about the number of viral hits for a Super Bowl ad is definitely cool but the reality is that most people aren’t lucky enough to have that kind of budget to work with. Additionally, some companies require measures that go beyond just “hits” and impressions.

If the example or case study is relatively unique to the speaker’s company and not applicable to a wider audience, then the talk becomes an interesting listen, but not really something that can be used.

These are just a few questions to consider when evaluating the usefulness of a conference. Feel free to share some of the lessons you have learned about your conference experiences.


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