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June 09, 2007

SMX Advanced: Was it Advanced Enough?

By Karl Ribas

SMX Advanced

As most of you already know, this past week was the first ever Search Marketing Expo (SMX) conference for the advanced search marketer... and I was among those in attendance. In light of my recent post here on the SMG blog "Are SEM Conferences Still Worth Attending?" Li has asked me to share with you my thoughts on the conference and disclose some of the differences (if any) between SMX and some of the other search conferences I've attended.

First of all, let me start by saying that I was a little skeptical after hearing that SMX would be dedicated to the "advanced" search audience. It's like my man Matt McGee pointed out, one has to be very careful when using the term "advanced" because the level at which "advanced" insinuates will almost always differ from person to person. And that was exactly the case with SMX Advanced.

After spending the last few days reviewing over my notes and chatting with some of those who also attended the conference, the general census seems to be 50/50 in terms of whether or not the sessions at SMX were advanced enough. For me personally, I seemed to get more out of the sessions on the second day than I did the first. Many of those whom I spoke with also shared these same feelings. I'm guessing a lot of this has to do with each individual speaker and whether or not speaking on a panel of this magnitude actually gave them enough inclination to share all they could. I'm thinking that most did not.

Overall, I'm going to say that the conference was semi-successful. SMX provided an atmosphere where veteran search marketers could learn, share ideas, and even interact with others as proficient in the industry as they are. I was very pleased with how the conference was scheduled (location, time of year, times of sessions and breaks, etc.), and I very much enjoyed the smaller, close-knit atmosphere that was emitted. To Danny and company... thanks for a great show.

Now, as far as what sets SMX apart from say other search related conferences... here is a list of 7 more notable differences:

1) A Change in Scenery.
SMX Advanced strayed away from where previous search marketing conference circuits had normally taken us... and to be honest the change in venue was wonderful. Don't get me wrong, attending conferences in Chicago and San Jose are great, but I for one was glad to take in some new sights and sounds.

2) In and out in 2 days.
A short, but sweet conference with only 2 tracks to choose from (organic and paid advertising) was certainly a nice transition from the traditional week-long conferences with four or so tracks running at the same time. Because SMX was only scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, attendees and speakers could attend and still manage to finish out their work week back in the office. That, or take in some of the sights and sounds that Seattle has to offer... something I decided to do.

3) Food for Thought.
Complimentary continental breakfasts, hot-plate lunch buffets, and afternoon snacks... oh my! Easily, and without a doubt, the best search conference meals that I've experienced thus far in my tenure.

4) Little to No Explanation Needed.
Do you ever seem to find yourself having a conversation with someone who sits, listens, and continuously nods their head? Often at times you wonder if they really do understand what it is that you're telling them or if they're clueless to it all, but are too embarrassed or don't care enough to interrupt. Well that definitely was NOT the case at SMX Advanced. This is the first conference where attendees and speakers had the ability to speak using SEM lingo and acronyms, as well as discuss industry products and services, without feeling the need to provide an explanation when doing so. The basics were literally thrown right out the window... and it was great.

5) Q&A is the Way to Go.
Many of the sessions at this conference invoked a Q&A style format... which in my opinion absolutely rocked! Q&A allowed speakers to address the information that was most important to the audience, and because these sessions didn't have pre-determined topics, the conversation could go just about anywhere... meaning speakers were able to provide lots of valuable insights spanning across multiple areas of search marketing. These group conversations led to a much better learning environment and gave attendees a brake from the traditional one-to-many slide-show presentations that we've become accustomed to.

6) Private Parties Were a No-Show.
Unlike other conference circuits, such as Search Engine Strategies, there were only three sponsored parties scheduled during the conference (four if you count the SEOmoz bash on Tuesday night), and all of which were made available to the entire SMX audience.

7) An Increase of Search Engine Presence.
Never before have I seen so many Googlers at one conference. Yahoo! and MSN also had a stronger presence than I've seen in the past. You really got the feeling that the search engines were interested in knowing what thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and opinions this group had bring to the table.

And that's that. I would like to leave a few closing thoughts (suggestions if you will) for Danny Sullivan and his crew at Third Door Media regarding future SMX Advanced conferences:

If at all possible, eliminate the use of slide-show presentations from your sessions... that is when they are not being used to drive home a visual point. I've seen speakers use slide-shows to deliver their information and help direct the conversation too many times... which seems to only bore an audience. Personally speaking, I think SMX is beyond slide-show presentations. By doing away with them, sessions would naturally evolve into advanced conversations and allow members of the audience to add to the overall learning experience.

A second request is to increase the number of vendors you have exhibiting. I honestly think that this was one the low points of the conference for many people, myself included, and it's something that can easily be fixed. On a side note, allowing search marketing companies to exhibit may be good for the checkbook now, but offer little to no benefits for the end user, other search marketers. Think like the engines do... think in terms of relevance.

My last request would be for you to quickly weed out those speakers whom seem to only share the basics or bare minimum of information. Ultimately, the deciding factor on whether or not your conference is seen as being advanced or not  is based solely on how well your speakers and panels perform. Therefore it is in your best interest to put the very best of speakers on stage, those willing to share more, and remove those who are not.


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Thanks for the write-up. I appreciated that you made note of the higher-quality of the food at SMX compared to SES. One might not think that's a big deal, but it really is (I've attended SES at 5 different locations, and the food is always average or just below). The best conference I've ever attended based on food? Emetrics Summit at the 4 Seasons in Santa Barbara. Absolutely unbelievable. One bite of the blueberry muffins on the first morning made me call my wife and brag.

Hey Dan,

Thanks for the comment. I totally agree with you... SES's boxed lunches are definitely below average... aka they suck big time! But you know it's something that the conference heads can correct rather easily. Hopefully once they read all this talk about how great the food was at SMX, they'll consider switching their menus to a hot-plate buffet too. One can hope anyway!

Great comments, and many of them thoughts I've already had for improving things next year. Noted!

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