SMX Sydney Day 2 Recap

[This post is a conversational recap of Day 2 of the SMX Sydney conference . If you’d rather have the meat without the potatoes, head straight to the detailed SMX speaker sessionsI blogged at SiteProNews.]

Am I going too fast for you? Catch the Day 1 Recap here.

Day 2 of SMX Sydney started out with a few bleary eyes around the place and a little more caffeine intake than noted the day before. The Keynote for Day 2 was from Bill Tancer of Hitwise titled “The Australian Searchscape: All the Latest Stats About Search Engines in Australia and New Zealand”.

Bill took us through some interesting statistics relating to search engine usage in the US, Australia and New Zealand. He admitted that he was surprised to see Google increase their market share in all three countries because he had personally assumed their market saturation had reached tipping point. Bill then went on to reveal some research statistics about the way people search.

The major theme of the presentation was that the way people search can and should influence the way you conduct your business online. Useful trivia acquired included the fact that Australia is more porn-free than the US, based on search trends. Also that *fear of being followed by a duck* factored highly amongst Aussie searchers for “Fear Of” queries. I promptly filed both of those away in my list of amusing anecdotes to use at dinner parties.

After the Keynote, we had morning tea and some of us decided to commemorate the meetup of Twitter pals in real life with a photo. The only problem was that Matt Burgess (@therealburgo) was MIA so we had to take the photo without him. Somebody joked that we could PhotoShop him in later, which of course I couldn’t resist doing (see before and after pics). Mike Motherwell (@motherwell) had already dubbed us the #InvisibleFriends and this became a running gag and Twitter hashtag for the rest of the conference and beyond.

Photo done, it was session time again. Attendees split into two groups and I attended the PPC for the SME session by Steven Power of ReachLocal while in the other room Rod Jacka from Panalysis talked about What You Should be Measuring But Aren’t. The main takeaway for me from Steven’s session was that PPC success means different things for different advertisers. Whether this was 20 direct sales, 50 new subscribers, 100 telephone enquiries or 2 new patients, it’s all relative and you should be prepared for unexpected results both good and bad.

Next up we all re-combined to attend SEO for the SME with Andy Jamieson (@andyjamo) of Switched on Media. At least we were meant to. For some reason, I missed this session entirely and I can’t remember why. Whoops! Thankfully, Neerav was there and blogged it.

Next up in the SME Track was Tom Petryshen (@amplifyseo) of Amplify dishing up SEM Tricks of the Trade, while those of us in the Search Conversion Track listened attentively to Stephen Pavlovich (@bonytoad) of Conversion Rate Experts who was in fine form explaining Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) to us all.

I noticed a lot of nodding heads and nuggets of Stephen’s wisdom being keenly tweeted during this preso and I’m not surprised. He convinced us to rid ourselves of the comfortable armchair of traditional conversion practices (throw lots of crap at a wall and hope some will stick) and instead embrace the more scientific approach of determining potential customer objections and removing those objections so they are no longer a barrier to conversions. He also introduced us to some kickass tools to help us along with this process.

Looking back, I would say I got more out of this session than from any of the others at SMX.

Suddenly, it was time for lunch and a 40 minute Meet the Search Engines Q&A with Google and Yahoo in the Ballroom. Curiously, there were very few of us who attended this session. Either people were too busy eating and networking in the Expo Hall, or they just forgot it was on. Whatever, I’m really glad I caught this one, because there was a LOT of new stuff discussed that I hadn’t heard about before. I wasn’t the only one with wide eyes as Greg Grothaus (@gregacious) from Google and Priyank Garg from Yahoo talked through new developments and answered questions from Webmasters. I was so rapt actually listening that I took very few notes, but you can read Kate Gamble’s (@kategamble) recap here.

Greg talked some more about the RelCan tag and how Google has improved their indexing of Flash files and PDFs in the past few months. He also discussed the much-hated Search Wiki and told us that through Webmaster Tools, Vulnerable Site Warnings are now being sent out to webmasters with sites Google feels are vulnerable to hacking.

Priyank took us through Yahoo’s BOSS API (Build your Own Search Service) and how it’s being used successfully on TechCrunch via vertical lens implementation and how it can be used as a web services model. He also discussed Yahoo’s Search Monkey application that’s allowing publishers and 3rd party developers to display enhanced search results (such as inline video play) for their web sites within the Yahoo SERPs.

My mind still reeling from the geeky goodness of the Google/Yahoo session, I settled in for Rand Fishkin’s (@randfish) presentation on What is Ethical Social Media Marketing? as part of the Social Media Track. Meanwhile, the Advanced PPC Track in the Sunset Room featured my old friend Chris Dimmock from Cogentis getting Up Close With the Google AdWords Quality Score beautifully blogged by Kate Gamble.

Rand talked about ethics and how it applies to social media. He asked the audience for their opinion about full disclosure obligations and listed the conflicting ways that professional social media marketers tackle ethical dilemmas. He wrapped things up with his 10 top tips for social media marketing success. My favorite quote of the conference came from this session, as Rand quoted George Carlin:

“Some people see things that are and ask why? Some people see things that never were and ask why not? Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that shit.”

Next up was a session I was very much looking forward to, Twitter Tips and Etiquette with Australia’s number 1 blogger Darren Rowse (@problogger).

Like many Twitter power users, Darren started off as a sceptic but quickly grew to embrace the medium.  He showed us some impressive statistics about the uptake of Twitter and the opportunities it provides on both a personal and business level. I was surprised to hear it was only the 85th most popular site in Australia but given it’s almost vertical growth rate, that figure will likely change very fast.

Darren explained that savvy businesses use Twitter as a reputation management tool – watching keywords, tracking brands, reputation monitoring and undertaking damage control. He said that the smart companies have multiple channels on Twitter and that Dell has 34 Twitter accounts! I noticed lots of people tweeting that gem.

A couple of major takeaways for me from this session were:

  • Re-frame questions for your followers instead of responding to questions with a one word answer (this adds value and brings everyone into the conversation)
  • Leave room in your tweets for ReTweeting by others (room to add your @handle and “RT”)

It was inspiring to see the many different ways Darren uses Twitter, particularly for audience acquisition and it kicked-started some gears in my mind about how to apply this to my own business.

While Darren spoke in the Ballroom, the Advanced PPC Track in the Sunset Room heard from Dennis Yu (@dennisyu) of Blitz Local about Advanced Paid Search Tactics, aptly blogged by Kate Gamble.

Afternoon tea came next and everyone raced towards the chocolate brownies and caffeine with gusto. We compared notes about our favorite sessions from the day and buzz began to grow about the upcoming Site Clinic and what might be exposed after last year’s dramatic Flight Centre cloaking expose.

But before the Site Clinic were two sessions, Managing Automated PPC Management Systems, where staff from Websalad, Datalicious and WebTrends each spoke about their PPC tools and the What is Spam? session, where Greg Grothaus from Google and Priyank Garg from Yahoo were each given 30 minutes to share their views about what they consider search engine spam to be. Naturally, I was at the spam session. I haven’t seen a write up of the PPC tools session yet, but if I do, I’ll add it here.

In the spam session, Greg started out with a definition of white and black hat SEO, which I had never heard from a search engine rep before and couldn’t resist tweeting that fact.  He then proceeded with the text book definition of search engine spam, taken almost word-for-word from Alan Perkin’s (@alancperkins) whitepaper The Classification of Search Engine Spam written back in 2001. That is, making pages primarily for users is probably not spam while making pages primarily for search engines probably *is* spam. Naturally, I tweeted Alan mid-presentation, although Alan has consulted with Google on the subject so is probably used to such references.

Priyank stated that very few guidelines are black and white when it comes to dealing with spam at Yahoo. He said that Yahoo uses both algorithmic and manual methods to deal with spam. Surprisingly, there were few questions after the sessions, although someone did ask if Google and Yahoo ever worked together to combat spam. This was met with an awkward silence followed by a quick no by both Greg and Priyank. Too quick? I’m not sure, but the reactions seemed a bit odd to me.

After this it was time for the final session of the conference, the infamous Site Clinic. By this stage, you could see people visibly winding down and getting into party mode for the post-conference event, SMX Under the Bridge, a cruise on Sydney Harbour (to become affectionately known as the Booze Cruise). But first, it was time for the Clinic.

In case you’re not familiar, the Site Clinic is a session where attendees offer up their web sites for a live SEO critique by several teams of experts on the panel. For this gig, panelists donned silly lab coats and were each given a beer for the session (yes a beer to drink DURING the panel). Last year Mike Motherwell had apparently used the word *dildo* on stage and this year we had thrown down the gauntlet for him to do it again. [Yes search marketers can be a juvenile bunch. After looking at code all day, it’s just how we roll].

I had ducked back to the hotel during Q and A to get changed and drop off my laptop so I snuck back into the Ballroom and plonked myself down into the first empty chair I saw. Which just happened to be next to Darren Rowse. Right away, I knew this session was going to be memorable. I tweeted that it was surreal to be in the same room as so many of my followers / followees and Darren promptly retweeted it. Being able to thank Darren in person for the RT was even more surreal!

To kick off the Site Clinic, some audience questions were thrown up for us to respond to with our hand held thingies and one of them was “How many of you would prefer to hire staff that hold SEM industry certification?” I was thrilled to see that 30% of respondees said that they definitely would, while the rest either didn’t know or didn’t care. Rand reminded the audience that there was no such thing as industry certification and I couldn’t resist tweeting him cheekily in response.  I didn’t know that would come back to haunt me later in the session!

Before I continue, if you want to read a write up of the official stuff covered by the Site Clinic, I suggest you look at coverage by Marc Elison. If you’d rather hear about the unofficial nonsense that went on and had us all giggling, read on.

So the first site to be reviewed was Aussie surf label Billabong. Rand Fishkin and Greg Boser (@gregboser) gave it a thorough going over and Rand exposed the fact that because they were using a hash tag symbol (#) in the URL of some of their product pages, those pages were not being indexed by Google. Amusingly, one of Billabong’s domains features the catchy slogan “As Seen on Google”, which had the audience cracking up laughing and tweeting in unison.

Next up was Mike Motherwell and Stephen Pavlovich reviewing a site called Spaceout, which connects people with space to rent with people who need space. Up until this point, I was thinking that Mike was behaving himself quite well. And then the site owner asked a question about how to market the site to get more business. Mike suggested that they try to find new markets for the business. “Like people who need somewhere other than their own place to run a business”, he said. “Meth labs, for example”.

Stunned silence was followed by huge guffaws from the audience. Greg Boser offered another suggestion “Or somewhere to store dead bodies”. More laughter and Twitter timeline updates ensued. At this point, I remember thinking, thank heck Mike isn’t reviewing (the final site on the list) and tweeted as much.

So next site up on the operating table was Creditcardfinder which was reviewed by Bruce Clay (@bruceclay) and Greg Grothaus (@gregacious). Bruce and Greg found some legitimate issues with the site, including some globabl navigation issues, some under-utilized title tags and dodgy link buys which Greg spent quite a bit of time on, suffice to say that perhaps the owners of the site may regret offering their site up for inspection. A parting shot from Greg Boser for future site clinics was to submit your competitor’s site for review rather than your own. And he wasn’t kidding!

The last site to be reviewed was, with Priyank Garg and Rob Kerry (@evilgreenmonkey) whipping out the virtual magnifying glass for this one. Plenty of general advice was given here, in relation to keyword consistency, link architecture and general design layout. But you just can’t keep a good man down. Mike, in his infinite wisdom, just couldn’t resist commenting “You might want to rethink the site name. I’ve had all the US panelists tell me that it means something else to them. Well guess what? It means the same thing here!”

I don’t know how the site owner reacted to this one, because I was too busy wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes and tweeting “I spoke too soon”.

So after the laughter dies down, Rand grabbed the mike and said “Somebody in the audience is angry that we’re suggesting there is no such thing as industry certification”. He’d obviously read my cheeky tweet. I blushed a mild scarlet knowing he is talking about me. “Where are you Kalena?” he went on. I raised my hand and all eyes turn my way. I meekly object“but I was just kidding!” but it’s too late.

“In case you didn’t know, Kalena works for Search Engine College and they offer a form of SEM certification” he goes on. I’m mortified and thrilled at the same time. As Darren tweeted a short time later, you just can’t buy that sort of publicity.

A few more audience questions followed, including one “Should Matt Cutts keynote SMX 2010?” which was met with a resounding yes from us all and earned a promising maybe from Matt via Twitter. Then Barry Smyth (@barrys_syd) stepped up to the mike for closing comments and that was a wrap for SMX Sydney 2009.

And this brings us to the evening’s entertainment.

Being thirsty search marketers about to board a rocking boat, some of us sensibly decided to head to The Deck and hope that one of the sponsors would put on another bar tab like the night before. Only to find that 200 people had had the same idea and were already lined up at the bar. 30 minutes later, (as we finally reached the stressed looking bartender who was literally using his mobile phone to call for back up), we got that call from Barry that the boat had arrived and we needed to get our asses down to the wharf. Chardonnays squaffed, we dutifully piled on board and were handed strange looking pink drinks.

I would describe the harbour cruise, the after party and the after-after party in more detail if I could remember more detail. The last thing I remember clearly is the huge dilemma amongst attendees disembarking from the boat about whether to go to the Opera Bar or The Argyle. I recall we chose to follow @motherwell to the latter but that’s where things get fuzzy.

Put it this way, we laughed, we sang, we tweeted, we danced and we lost several items. I lost my digital camera, we all lost @motherwell and somebody lost the ability to stand upright. Yes, one of our party was asked to leave The Argyle (not saying who) and we had to scull our drinks and run out the front door while said party was escorted out the fire escape by two largish bouncer types.

But that’s the sign of a good night and as the song goes:“You say it best when you put it all on Facebook…”.

Final thoughts? What with the fantastic agenda put together by Barry and Lisa (@seonounou), the quality of speakers and getting to hang with #InvisibleFriends? Best. Conference. Ever.

For more coverage, check out my SMX Facebook albums, the write up by Jane and the recap by Matt.

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