SMX Sydney Day 1 Recap

David and Barry at the SMX Tweetup

[This post is a conversational recap of Day 1 of the SMX Sydney conference . If you’d rather have the meat without the potatoes, head straight to the detailed SMX speaker sessions I blogged at SiteProNews.]

Before we actually get to Day 1 of the Conference proper, let me tell you a little about Conference Eve, which just happened to be April Fool’s Day. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll know that I set up an impromptu TweetUp for that night at the hotel lobby bar. Originally I was only expecting a small handful of people  but we ended up with around 20 or more in the end, which was fabulous! The first two pics in this post are from the Tweetup.

It was especially fun to catch up with Peter Newsome (@sitemost) who won our SEC tee design comp, Andy Henderson (@webco), Rand Fishkin (@randfish) of SEOmoz and Jane Copland (@coplandmj) whom I’d hardly said boo to last year due to being completely side-tracked with our exhibition booth and attending very few of the parties.

There was a strong pre-conference buzz in the air as we swapped funny Twitter stories and waxed lyrical about who should buy Twitter and why. Knowing we had to get up super early but not caring, we moved around the block to the Kirribili Club for supper and a game of pool.

So the next day – Day 1 of SMX Sydney – I set off towards Luna Park about 7am, having promised to help Barry Smyth (@barrys_syd), Lisa Davis (@seonounou) and David Olsen (@DDsD) with conference setup and attendee registration. As my training company Search Engine College was an official sponsor, I was nervous about the event and hoped that attendance and session quality would be high in order to recoup value on our investment.

Lisa and I at the SMX Sydney Tweetup

As an invited blogger, I was excited and looking forward to soaking up the nuggets of industry wisdom that promised to be dished out by speakers and other attendees at the various sessions.

But taking off both of those hats for a minute, I realized I was also extremely proud to be involved behind the scenes of a show that had been crowned Best Conference Ever last year by Rand. Could we pull it off again this year? I really wanted the gig to go smoothly and prove to our international speakers that while Australia and New Zealand might be a few years behind the bleeding edge of search, we can still put on a quality industry event.

Being in charge of handing out Search Engine College tshirts and laptop bags at registration meant that I missed Rand’s keynote, but you can catch coverage of that by Neerav Bhatt (@neerav) on the Bruce Clay Australia blog.

Registration itself went quite smoothly and I noticed some interesting job titles on the lanyards this year including: “SEO Rainmaker”, “Director of Fun Management” and “Education Ninja” (granted, that last one was mine). Being able to welcome the attendees also gave me the chance to connect at last with some of my favorite Twitter homies, including @motherwell, @therealburgo and @acatinatree.

After Rand’s keynote, the attendees split into two distinct Tracks: Search Engine Bootcamp and Technical SEO.

I managed to live blog Bruce Clay’s (@bruceclay) Bootcamp session: Understanding SEO, What’s it All About? over at SiteProNews.

Bruce Clay

Bruce’s talk set the scene for attendees new to the industry, by helping them understand what SEO is and why it’s still vital for anyone with a web presence. It was a great session but it was interesting to note that many more attendees switched to the Technical SEO Track and Bruce spoke to a much smaller audience this year compared with the similar presentation last year. Was this a sign that the Aussie search market has matured in 12 months? It sure felt like it. The responses from the audience over the 2 days to questions about their industry experience suggested this too.

While Bruce was presenting for the Bootcamp stream, Jason West of Websalad took the stage for the Technical SEO stream with his talk on Blended Search Tactics and Video Optimization.

After Bruce’s presentation in the main room, Aidan Beanland (@gridkid) of Yahoo7 kicked off Search Engine Friendly Web Design for the Bootcamp track. Aidan reminded us all to fight the anti-SEO battle and not let stakeholders, budgetry constraints or sceptical IT departments distract us from our mission of creating accessible, search friendly web sites.

Aidan Beanland

Speaking of live-blogging, whenever I attempt to live blog a conference, something always conspires to thwart me. SMX Sydney 2009 was no different. On Day 1 I lost WiFi several times mid post and on Day 2 I ran out of laptop battery before publishing. Super frustrating was losing half an entire blog post during coverage of Stephan Pavlovich’s (@bonytoad) session on Day 2 thanks to a WiFi refresh and not having saved my WordPress draft. Aaaarrrrgghhh! After that fiasco, I ended up typing frantic points in Notepad hoping to turn them into readable gems later. But of course mid-conference networking and post-conference socialising conspired against me until now.

Anyway, back to conference coverage. Because I chose to go to Aidan’s session, I missed the Blended and Mobile Search track in the Sunset Room but judging by the tweets flying thick and fast, Cindy Krum (@suzzicks) from Rank-Mobile was on fire as she talked about What’s New in Mobile Search while Monte Huebsch (@monteh) brought everyone up to speed on how to optimize their presence on local search engines and mapping services such as Google Maps.

After lunch saw Greg Grothaus (@gregacious) from Google up on stage. Greg works closely with Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) as part of Google’s anti spam Ninja force, so there was a lot of interest in what he had to say and the room was packed. Greg’s presentation about Unraveling URLs and Demystifying Domains began with the anatomy of a URL and why Google doesn’t index fragments.

Jane Copland

Although much of Greg’s content was of the basic SEO variety, I picked up a few new gems in this session that I hadn’t heard of before, such as the Canonical Link Element and some tips for getting Rich Media indexed. It was a great fodder for me to share with Search Engine College students, particularly in relation to avoiding duplicate content issues that may crop up without you even realizing it. Things like making sure that your pages don’t exist on both canonical and non-canonical URL versions and making sure your printer-friendly page versions are not indexed by search engines.

But while I appreciate the content in Greg’s presentation, I feel that he skipped over a lot of important interesting stuff, raced through his slides and set the type of blistering speaker pace that even the most event-hardened live-blogger couldn’t keep up with. You can catch what I *did* manage to record of Greg’s gig here.

For the next session, I chose to leave the Boot Camp stream and head over to the Sunset Room for Jane Copland’s (@coplandmj) gig on Internal Linking Tactics. Amusingly, Lucas Ng’s introduction of Jane from Ayima made mention of her international roaming and resultant multiple accents (US / Kiwi / UK), to which she responded with delightful blushing and concern that now the audience would listen not to her content but to her accent.

Another presentation speed demon, Jane talked about the importance of leveraging internal site links and she also introduced the concept of PageRank sculpting to those in the audience unfamiliar with the strategy. Of course we all listened intently and at some point during the session decided via Twitter that Jane’s accent was to be henceforth known as *Britiwiyank* which @motherwell promptly shortened to *Britiwank*, which is not like him at all.

Sticking with the Links and URL’s SEO Track, those of us in the Sunset Room were next treated to 30 minutes with Greg Boser (@gregboser) as he regaled us with tales of 301 Redirects and Domain Canonicalization. Greg kicked off by announcing that he was a Google Tool. Which got a big laugh and tweets in stereo from the audience. He then said that he thought the 301 was the greatest SEO tool ever invented because it’s the only redirect that passes link “juice”.

Although I’m a big fan of 301 redirects, I hadn’t really given the issue much thought beyond the fact that you should use them when you switch domains to help Googlebot find it’s way home. Apart from being hard to pronounce, domain canonicalization is the type of issue that seems to strike fear into the most tech-savvy of webmasters. It’s also an issue that splits the industry, destroys friendships and sorts the geeks out from the nerds or something. Greg recommended that the audience use the www where possible because most people will link to that version of your site rather than the non-www so you might as well take advantage of the default link juice rather than having to find and redirect the bad links. He also couldn’t resist a light-hearted dig at Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) for using the non-www URLs on all his sites. Which I couldn’t resist tweeting immediately to Danny because I’d always wondered the same thing.

Greg also talked about what he calls *RelCan*, which is the canonical header tag Greg Grothaus from Google had talked about earlier to be use in place of conditional redirects. Today was the first I’d heard about the tag and it was fascinating stuff.

While Jane and Greg were speaking in the Sunset Room, Katie Hodgkinson of Steak Digital and Chris Thomas of Reseo were doing their Boot Camp thing in the Crystal Palace Ballroom. You can see what Katie covered here and if I can find coverage of Chris’s presentation, I’ll let you know.

So, that brings us up to afternoon tea, which gave us all a chance to re-caffeinate, bitch about the air conditioning and catch up on Twitter replies via our iPhones.

Next up in the Boot Camp track was Lucas Ng (@lucasng) from Fairfax Digital talking about Writing Killer Ad Copy. Lots of sensible advice here, particularly things like the importance of writing the ad for the purchaser, not necessarily the searcher and how to use common psychological triggers in your PPC ads. Unfortunately, Lucas’s presentation in the main room was head to head with Rob Kerry (@evilgreenmonkey) from Ayima in the smaller room which I missed. Rob talked about CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 and SEO. Luckily, Neerav covered Rob’s gig nicely.

Networking drinks in the Expo Hall

Tim McDonald from Found Agency appropriately slotted into the next Boot Camp session, which was about PPC Ad Group Management and how to structure your PPC campaigns effectively. I found some more gold nuggets of knowledge here, including Tim’s recommendation to break out your high performing keywords from Ad Groups and put them in their own dedicated Ad Groups so they have their own budget rules. Plus the suggestion to separate your Content Match contextual keywords away from your Search Network only keywords to allow for easier management and ad type display.

Tim also recommended using few keywords per Ad Group, which I always agree with, but when he suggested using 30 separate AdGroups for 30 different keywords, he kinda lost me at that point. From a management perspective, I’ve found that grouping together keywords via specific themes is much more logical than creating a new AdGroup for each and every keyword.

Meanwhile, in the Sunset Room, Priyank Garg from Yahoo was teaching the audience about Bot Herding and IP delivery. Read more about Priyank’s presentation via the Bruce Clay blogging team.

The final Boot Camp session for Day 1 was Mark Tully discussing Landing Page Basics, while the Technical SEO Track featured Cindy Krum from Rank Mobile talking about International SEO and how to to strategically target audiences outside your own country. I only caught half of Cindy’s session, but managed to blog it with the help of her slides. You can also catch Neerav’s coverage. I haven’t seen a write-up of Mark’s presentation yet, but watch this space.

After the intensity of the agenda, everyone was pretty happy when Barry wrapped up Day 1 and directed us to the Expo Hall for networking drinkies. I got the impression from the attendees that I spoke with that both the quality of the content and complexity of the topics was much higher than last year. An hour later and Barry sent us on our merry way 20 metres away to The Deck bar where Conference Gold sponsors Omniture had slapped on a very generous bar tab for us all.

Around 8pm a few of us walked another 20 metres for an international speakers dinner at Aqua Restaurant. Time to *get your schmooze on* as my Twitter buddy @acatinatree is fond of saying. What followed was an extraordinarily delicious meal with jovial company and much oohing and aahing at the magic views of Sydney Harbour. Barry even arranged for fireworks to go off midway through dinner. (Well not really, but the international speakers were drunk enough to believe it so we ran with that).

On to the Curve Bar back at the hotel where our experienced London team managed to convince staff to keep the bar open a bit longer just for us. And so ended a fabulous day. Read on for my Day 2 Recap.

If you prefer visuals, check out the official SMX photography by Andrew Ballard, or the unofficial photography from Andy and Me on Twitpic or the SMX Sydney albums on my Facebook profile or Jane’s.

If you liked it, don’t forget to take this post for a Sphinn!