HighlyStructured.com is a blog website run by Mike D'Agostino about search engine positioning, online marketing, php/MySQL, tae kwon do, and various other topics.

Review and Opinion of the 2006 New York Search Engine Strategies Conference

March 01, 2006

On a scale of 0 to 100, I would rate the conference an 83. You may think that's a little harsh and would expect a better score, but hey, it's just my opinion.

Registration was between 8-9am and I arrived just before 8am to the New York Hilton. I was the fourth person to register that morning and of course the printer broke that was supposed to print my badge and I ended up waiting about 15 minutes for the Hilton computer team to fix the problem. Not a big deal...so I checked out the area and ended up in the great wi-fi lounge (sponsored by info.com) to check email etc.

The first session I attended was "Pundits on Search". The panel included Matt Cutts from Google, Jeremy Zawodny from Yahoo!, Robert Scoble from Microsoft, and a couple others. The moderator was the guy who runs the website SearchEngineWatch.com. The session was run more like a press conference with people in the audience asking questions and the moderators "answering". I saw "answering" because I didn't really glean much useful information. I lay some of the blame on the audience who asked very broad and open-ended questions but if Robert Scoble made one more joke about how he looked like Bill Gates and answered as if he was Bill Gates, I would have left the session. I myself had two questions planned: (for Matt Cutts) What is Googles relationship with Alexa, why is it that PageRank and Alexa Rating seem to be so intertwined, and where is the relationship going? And a second question was What are Google, MSN, and Yahoo! doing to advance personal search (trying to predict which types of results would be relevant for specific users) and do they think MSN (Microsoft) has an advantage since they basically "own" the desktop of nearly all Internet users and have access to the contents of their files? I didn't get a chance to ask any questions...

The second session on search engine algorithms was probably the most disappointing. The room was packed, people couldn't find a seat and lined the walls, so there was much anticipation. However the speakers fumbled at best with their presentations. Rand Fishkin's presentation was ok and genuine, but it was more of a beginner's speach than anything else (I KNOW why I should be looking at search engine algorithm patents...that's why I sat in on the session!). The second presenter was William Slawski from SEOByTheSea.com and I felt did not do a great job. I think it was because none of these guys were really good public speakers but even so, it seemed as if he put together his slides and presentation rather hastily and consistently fumbled from slide to slide making it rather incoherent. Perhaps the guy that saved the day was the last presenter (can't remember his name) who sited some specific patents and described what they mean for site optimizers. All the while people were filtering out of the session left and right so I think others in attendance probably share my point of view. It was alright but in the end I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that some of the presenters were ill-prepared and didn't really offer me too much information (getting 20,000 incoming link the day after your site is published will alert the search engines...duh!)

I visited the expo hall(s) between each session and got to spend a decent amount of time during the lunch break. I would estimate about 65% of the vendors and sponsors were ad servers...companies that pool together advertisers who bid to be placed on a particular publisher's site (or a similar model). It's great to see so much competition but I was kind of numb to it by the end of lunch! There were some other fascinating vendors including a European company run by linguists that (if I got their pitch correct) basically run through and process all the words on your site/page to determine what you are actually targeting and talking about. This information could be used to set up ad campaigns to target specific keywords, or to ensure your content is really describing what you want it to.

The third session about optimizing RSS feeds/blogs was the saving grace of the day. All three presenters were clearly prepared, spoke well, and I learned a thing or two. I was impressed with the guy from FeedBurner.com who seemed to be a little more knowledgable from what I assume is a little bit more of a technical background. The other two presenters were more of consultants and "experimenters" of RSS and blogs while the guy from FeedBurner is obviously at the forefront of the technology. It was funny because more than once it seemed like the FeedBurner guy and the other two got into slight arguments about some technical issues and I gave the victory to the FeedBurner guy. The highlight of the session though was probably when I got to ask a question about advertisements in RSS feeds which spurred a 15 minute long discussion and another heated debate...again I'd go with the FeedBurner guy's opinions.

The final session was on advanced keyword analytic techniques. While it was geared primarily for ecommerce sites and pay-per-click campaigns I did jot down a few new tools and sites that I had never heard of that may be useful. Again, nothing really new learned here and I thought one of the presenters was just not a public speaker, but it was still interesting.

All in all it was an interesting experience. Had I gone the year before I don't think I would have even have given the score of 83/100. I just don't think enough new information was offered as far as optimizing websites for organic listings is concerned. I knew all the "information" they presented just from reading blogs and being involved in the search engine space, which I suspect more people in attendence were as well. I would rather have heard from real life experiences from Rand Fishkin, or more about the current technologies Scoble is playing with. The icing on the cake though was when I was interviewed after the final session about my thoughts on the conference! The interviewer took my card and told me I would be notified when the video was posted on the conference website so I'll be looking out for that...

I will think about going again next year but will be looking out for more of the RSS optimization type sessions or other sessions which are more on the cutting-edge of technology. All-in-all though it was positive experience.

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