The Inevitable Evolution of SES Chicago


This year PubCon by Webmaster World takes place at the same time as SES Chicago, traditionally an annual mainstay of corporate search marketing conferences. It’s well known to industry insiders that Danny Sullivan’s historic relationship with SES has run its course and he’s no longer at the helm. For his part Danny has been extremely gracious and supportive of the iconic SES franchise he built globally with team members like Chris Sherman.

The value perception proffered by the internationally respected SES institution is, in all likelihood, an unstoppable brand even without Danny’s ubiquitous presence. The conference is already evolving to serve a somewhat different audience. The transition will take place cold-turkey this year with the overlapping of PubCon.

Loyalty Run Amuck
The professional search marketing community is fiercely loyal to Danny Sullivan with good cause. His journalism and PR savvy helped bring search marketing mainstream to the forefront of today’s big-brand marketing mindset. In support of his transition from SearchEngineWatch to wildly successful next-gen projects, including SearchEngineLand, Sphinn, and SMX, there has been some snarky public-speculation (among big SEO babies) that SES will magically implode. Though there have been isolated incidents of icky sour-grapes and bad mouthing, don’t count on SES going anywhere.

There is A Certain Place In This World For SES
There is no doubt that Kevin Ryan, Vice President, Global Content Director Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Watch has sequenced a much different show than previous SES offerings. This year’s Chicago conference is clearly less focused on social media and geared more for corporate types than hard-core SEOs. There is an enhanced focus on international search. With search marketing taking the world by storm and professionals flocking to the field in droves, there is certainly a place in this world for SES provided it evolves to serve a different audience than other popular SEM shows.

Obviously show organizers have figured this out and Kevin Ryan has taken Danny’s child, now a pre-teen, in a brave and evolutionary direction. That said, Chicago will feature plenty of popular mainstays and will likely be a success, even with repeat attendees.

I’m sure PubCon will be wonderful, but AIMCLEAR was first invited to cover SES both by conference organizers and SEORoundTable so we’ll be there. I’m looking forward to hearing engaging speakers like Eric Ward: Link Moses, Mike Grehan, Founder and CEO, SearchVisable, and Dave Davies, CEO, Beanstalk. Buried deep in Day Two’s Agenda, you’ll see that Danny Sullivan himself is moderating “Meet the Web Analytics Players,” presumably to satisfy a contractual obligation.

Keynote speaker Seth Godin writes one of the most popular marketing blogs in the world, has authored some of the best selling marketing books of the last decade, is a highly acclaimed social media speaker, and founder of, a fast-growing recommendation website. All SES Chicago attendees will receive a complimentary advance copy of Seth’s latest book, Meatball Sundae.

Andrew Goodman will be featured at the afternoon Orion Panel. He’s a fabulous speaker and well known to SES veterans. Having spoken and moderated at upwards of 20 Search Engine Strategies conferences globally, Andrew is quoted frequently in mainstream media publications including Wall Street Journal, New York Times, New Media Age, and Globe and Mail.

Yes Virginia, SES Has an Identity of Its Own
Like many SEMs in our tight knit community, I live and breathe SearchEngineLand, Sphinn, SMX, and the blogs on Lee Odden’s Big List. However, I’m often SHOCKED to encounter serious in-house and agency marketing professionals who have never even HEARD these industry defining staples. Track this: Last year at SES a remarkable percentage of new attendee-friends we made had never even heard of Danny Sullivan let alone PubCon. Some of these folks may find SES a more appropriate series, for whatever reason.

Search Engine Strategies, under the capable stewardship of Danny Sullivan, grew legs a long time ago. My guess is that under Kevin Ryan SES will continue its evolution to serve a different audience than previously. We’ll find out soon enough because the transition will take place cold-turkey this year with the overlapping of PubCon. We’ll see you in Chicago!

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