The Power Of #SearchFest & Why Portland Means So Much To Me

In 2008, Portland’s now iconic regional search marketing conference took place at the Oregon Zoo. I stayed at the freshly opened Nines Hotel downtown and took a TriMet: MAX train to the venue. I was struck by Oregon’s gorgeous natural beauty, the earthy nature of the city folk, the food scene and how vital things felt here. I had no idea how meaningful Portland, her community and SearchFest would become to me.

The speakers back in 2008 were of various reputation and experience, but overall inspiring for a small regional conference (which SearchFest was at the time). There was also a smattering of total rockstar speakers. Rand Fishkin crushed the audience that year, spreading genius to what was a smaller audience and venue for where Rand’s career was at the time. Ian Lurie spoke in 2008, offering prescient shades of the magical straight-man virtuosity, which would propel Ian to be perceived as one of the most important technical SEO minds on earth. For my part, I delivered the first of what would become a classic Marty Weintraub-brand conference rant. SearchFest 2008 was my first online marketing speaking engagement ever.

Rand-FishkinHowever, my dearest recollection of SearchFest 2008, and an indelible, formative memory, took place in the lobby by the zoo’s exit door. After Rand Fishkin keynoted, he stayed through most of the day, watching speakers and taking things in. He wanted to head back to the hotel before the speakers dinner, probably to get some work done. Moz, SEOmoz then, was scaling and no doubt Rand had things to do. He was on his cell phone, while leaving, wheeling, dealing. That’s Rand Fishkin.

A young man, probably about 22-23 years old, semi-politely interrupted Rand with questions about SEO. The questions were incredibly basic, total SEO 101, almost humorous in naïve innocence. Rand, already a preeminent global SEO expert, thorn in Google’s butt, darling of the international search marketing conference circuit, storied blogger and emergent entrepreneur, ended his phone call to answer questions. He was keynote that day. I got the sense that his attention meant everything to the questioner. Hell, I would have enjoyed a little of Rand’s attention myself that day. Dude, I was totally surprised that Rand would take so much of his time, about 20 minutes when he wanted to leave, to cover SEO basics with a total, beautiful industry newcomer.

I remember thinking, now THAT’S what a real rockstar looks like. Unaffected, giving, on the street, servicing a novice one on one, a thousand dollar an hour consultant taking time he did not have, one fan, one student at a time.

Joanna-Lord“SearchFest is special to me because it’s truly a community conference where you have access to people you’ve been building an ecosystem around with all year long. There’s a higher level of conversation here, as well as a deeper dive. I leave more excited than when I came with an even greater love of our industry than when I arrived.” 

—Joanna Lord

Search-FestThe power of Portland’s SearchFest is putting that 22-year-old newb in the room with Rand Fishkin. Now years later, SearchFest has scaled that power of connecting international thought leaders with local marketers many times over. In 2008, I was an unknown regional marketer. At SearchFest, I met numerous masterminds and emergent prodigies…for the first time.

Portland’s annual SearchFest digital marketing conference has quietly become one of the most important regional thought leadership events in the world. What’s most impressive is that SEMpdx (Portland’s digital marketing trade organization and organizers of SearchFest) has grown the event while earning the respect and support of bigger business, mainstream conference promoters. Bravo!

“Not everyoneDanny-Sullivane can travel to a large event, so local events provide a great way for search marketers to have in-person learning. I think they’re so important that I’ve personally made an effort to get out to one or more of them per year, when asked to speak or keynote. For me, it’s also been a way to give back to people from local areas who’ve come out to speak at our SMX shows. From a national show perspective, we also think that local shows can help people get the show ‘bug’ and want more, such as the unique things a national event like SMX can provide.”

—Danny Sullivan

Wonderful Speakers, Lots To Learn
Another beauty of SearchFest is a historic willingness to test new speakers. At the time AIMCLEAR was a 4-person company few had heard of. Todd Mintz, one of Portland’s Todddigital marketing insiders, knew my conference coverage blogging. I’d been tearing up coverage of SES, SMX and PubCon events for about a year, writing for SearchEngineWatch, and getting seriously busy networking.

Todd lobbied the SEMpdx board, which invited me to speak about social media reputation management at SearchFest2008. In the last eight years, I’ve only missed speaking at one SearchFest.

The SearchFest agenda each year is forward-thinking and relevant. The SEMpdx team does a great job. A high percentage of the speakers are the smarty-pants you’ll also see at the most important, major and international industry conferences, including SMX and PubCon. Since SearchFest happens early in the year, I tend to experiment with material I plan on sharing all over the world, debuting new stuff here.

Matt-SiltalaI love the SearchFest conference because there is so much love & thought put into it.  This is not a conference that is just thrown together. Top-notch speakers and networking opportunities that even an old vet like me can benefit from. I learn every time I come to SearchFest. These type of events are so important in getting the local community involved with our industry and taking it more mainstream.”  

—Matt Siltala, Avalaunch Media

In retrospect, the opportunity to speak at SearchFest 2008 was one of the great breaks of my professional career. Sitting here today in the lobby of Portland’s storied Sentinel Hotel, it’s amazing to think of the improbable array of digital marketers that have spoken at SearchFest. Portland has meant the world to my career and the growth of AIMCLEAR. I’ve made lifelong friends and earned clients here.

Thank you SearchFest. Bravo! Keep up the great work and hope to see you again next year!

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