SES Chicago had a very different vibe from the six other SES shows I’ve participated in. The show was packed with first time attendees and lots of in-house folks. I actually think this is a really good sign. SEO/M has reached a turning point. On one level it has matured. Early practitioners now have years of service time in the field. At the same time, most small and medium sized businesses are just getting up to speed. No one is more conscious of this than Google. And their business strategy proves it. Google’s deal with Intuit on QuickBooks could be the most important partnership this year. Google also has a created what amounts to a full service solution for search advertising. Google will help build and host your page for you. Other services they provide for free include email, shopping cart, web analytics and testing. There are many companies online that have been selling these services to small businesses for a long time.
Someone else who knows what they’re doing is Danny Sullivan. In Chicago Danny announced his new company Third Door Media would launch a conference series for more advanced SEOs and SEMs. SMX kicks off in Seattle this June and I can’t wait to see the agenda Danny comes up with. By going up market Danny allows SES and SMX to both survive as they each cater to a different audience. I think this is great for the industry. There is a clear need for a higher level of strategic discussion around search as it gains more recognition and prominence in marketing plans. In many respects I feel that search is seen by C level execs as a marketing subculture. I think and hope that SMX will help change that perception.
My first panel was Ads in a Quality Score World. Danny moderated. Joining me were Andrew Goodman from Page Zero, Joshua Stylman from Reprise and Brian Boland from Microsoft. I had a chance to chat with Brain afterwards and don’t count Microsoft out of the paid search game. Every SEM knows MS traffic has always been better quality than any of the other engines. They have some deep analytic, targeting and optimization tools already in AdCenter and they are working on more. If they find a way to get impression volumes up they can pick up market share quickly. My presentation below focused on some of the issues around delivering relevance (which is what quality score is supposed to be all about) and Google’s attempts to measure relevance. At this point Quality Score is far from perfect but it’s a great idea and as I think Josh pointed out, it’s not going anywhere. Factoring in relevance between keywords, ads and landing pages will be part of Yahoo’s Panama as well. An interesting side note; Chris Zaharias, SVP of Strategic Services at Efficient Frontier pointed out in a webinar I had the pleasure of doing with him last week, how Google has attributed increased profitability in AdWords to their quality score initiatives and that the stock price has moved in lock step Quality Score improvements.
A note on Slideshare: If you want to see the slides in a larger size click the link on the player to the Slideshare site.
My second presentation was on Ad Testing Research and Findings. Andrew Goodman moderated and Anton Konikoff of Acronym, Hugh Burnham of Rare Method and Gord Hotchkiss of Enquiro joined me. Gord had some great findings as always related to one of my passions, searcher behavior. In fact, my conversation with Gord in the “green room” about ways to marry qualitative and quantitative data on searcher behavior from query to conversion was one of the highlights of the show for me. My presentation focused on multivariate tests on Google ads that we’ve been doing. With each test (and we just launched three new ones this week) we continue to discover some interesting things.
I’m already looking forward to the next SES on my home turf in NYC. I anticipate a more agency centric crowd and with everything going on with Google’s Quality Score and Yahoo’s Panama I think we’ll see lots of talk about relevance.