My Top SMX East Reflections, From 34,000′

photo credit: Rebecca Miller

Gazing out this Airbus A319’s window, dreamlike cirrus clouds expand towards the far horizon. I travel tens of thousands of miles each year, but some trips are special.  Others, like this week in New York for SMX, are pilgrimages.


I’m certain I’m not the only speaker, organizer or conference attendee who will look back on this year’s SMX East as subtle testimony to fantastic pivot points.  The search industry is growing up as the known advertising universe folds in. Here are some personal reflections from inside the evolving search industry.

Influx & Evolution of SEM Practitioners
In the beginning there was a small group of radical geeks and nerds. This inaugural webmaster world crew laid game changing foundations in the early 90’s.

Blogger/practitioners like Danny Sullivan, Brett Tabke, Barry Schwartz, Chris Sherman, Andy Beal, Rand Fishkin, Michael Gray & Aaron Wall followed.  Search engine marketing was born and stage set for the SEM industry as we know it today.

Now the entire known marketing universe is folding in. Empirical demographic research replaced sterile conjecture and savvy demand for conversion tracking became become the expectation amongst now-accountable mad men.


Critical need for competent professionals over the last few years spawned a wholesale migration of displaced last-gen marketers who flocked to search.  They’re here and they’re learning fast. Venerable search educator Greg Jarboe told a SearchEngineStrategies session at SES San Jose 2008 that “having experience is useful in search, but it’s not a requirement to be extremely successful.”

As the outstanding amongst first-wave search professionals morph into consensus thought leaders and lovely newbie-tweople join our exploding ranks, there’s a fascinating churn. It’s a great time to be alive.

smx2Take this week’s SMX East search marketing conference.  Out of approximately 1500 verified attendees, 44% report* they’ve been involved in SEM for more than 5 years and 30% for less than 3 years. Of the marketers, 57% say they work at agencies and 43% work for a company or organization. They’re the decision makers, responsible for buying SEM products and services. 80% exercise purchase authority and more than 20% of those who buy advertising spend more than $2 million annually.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with decision makers who represent marketing assignments we are perfect fits for. Without question these brand names would be the absolute envy of any Madison Avenue Account Executive from any generation.  Dude this ride is awesome.  To those who’ve gone before, thank you for leading the way. To our new professional associates, we welcome you to search with open arms. We need the manpower.


Intersection of User Experience & Algorithmic Tactics
The search engines finally have pretty decent bullshit detectors and spamming is more difficult, though not impossible by any means.  That said there is a lot less emphasis on algorithmic manipulation than at any other time remembered.

Walking the line between user and search engine focused optimization has become to colloquial rage.  One repetitive theme from SMX was that there’s little equity for most folks trying to reverse engineer Google’s secret indexing sauce. Playing beat the algorithm is no longer a front line tactic.

Though SEOs like Rand Fishkin and Shari Thurow butt heads, they’re saying they evangelize the same approach. Build websites for people, make sure they are built to be indexed by search engines.

Facebook: The Other Internet
Facebook is another freakin’ Internet.  It’s a closed loop members-only (300 million+) community. According to Facebook 120 million users login every day, posat 1 billion pictures and 10 million videos monthly. Each week there’s a billion new content blocks which include blog posts, news stories and links.  There are 45 million “active” user groups and individuals communicate on walls, chat, tagging pages and profiles.  Your customers are using Facebook.

AIMCLEAR and our agency pals are ramping up Facebook PPC spending in a huge ways, exponentially even.  The clicks are more targeted and less expensive than Google. Don’t discount B2B in Facebook because it can work great. No matter who the audience is, serving ads in an inherently viral environment only makes sense.

Facebook is a force to deal with, at minimum as social and social PPC channels to dilute your overall CPA by paid and viral. Ignore it at your own myopic peril.

A Brave New World of Hyper-Specialization
In 2008, speaking on the SES Facebook panel, I was struck at how specialized this single channel was even then. Each panelist focused on a different area of Facebook  in some areas I was less experienced with.  There are channel specialists focused on YouTube, PPC practitioners expert in serving to Google’s legendary ContentNetwork  and companies that only do natural search intersecting with PR.

We’ve entered into a hyper-specialized new world of teams to manage YouTube and Twitter customer service.  As the SEM universe expands look for job description anew and focused new roles for human resources.

So Many Channels
When I first got into marketing there were less than 10 top-level channels ranging from print, broadcast television, cable, radio and billboards. Now there’s hundred’s of channels and networks that target marketing to them.

Marketing of any model, SEO, PPC, Social, Social PPC, ORM, etc… now requires full time research to track new channel types as well as crucial developments within channels. Case in point, Twitter (microblogging) in public did not even exist to the public’s perception 2 years ago. Now it’s one of the most interesting situational search channels on earth.

The Most Beautiful People in the World
virginia-nussey-pictureSearch marketers are the most beautiful people in the world. Looking out at the SMX audience I was again struck by the intensity, intelligence, wit, verve, style and focus of our community.

Thank you so much for the privilege of being your friend and business associate.  mannyEach day when going to work, I thank the stars and Lake Superior to be amongst such lovely people.  Some of the work we do on the Internet together will reverberate forever in corner store and mainstream networks. Search is beautiful like music, poetry, geometry, the coast of Maine and a warm summer day.


I’ve met thousands of people in my life, traveled all over the world and some communities are just special. Here’s looking at you #SMX.

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