SES Chicago 2011: Review and Takeaways

Corey Northcutt    By under SEO.

Though I've been studying and practicing SEO now for about a decade, it wasn't until this week that I made it to my first Search Engine Strategies Conference that ClickZ puts on all over the world, year after year.  Between this event and the similar SMX conference that didn't make it to Chicago this year, some of the most experienced SEOs and staff from search engines themselves will talk about SEO and related online marketing.  This is a huge opportunity that most professionals, even within the marketing space, seem to be allowing to pass them by.

My Early Skepticism

With a price tag of nearly $2,000 just to attend, SES Chicago was not an event that the average business owner might immediately justify (or necessarily should).    Furthermore, people blog about these topics and reiterate lessons from the conferences themselves to no end (case in point: the text right in front of you) for free.

Why I Went

10 years later, SEO is still where it's at (actually now more than ever).

1.) 92% of consumers choose search engines to find things online (Pew Internet, 2011).
2.) Search engine advertising is largely considered to be both the best business model and most targeted advertising tool ever known.
3.) Good SEO is basically free.

This was a chance to talk about real situations, strategies, and the future of the industry with some of the best SEOs in the world.  Although I expected (and received) mostly review sessions on topics that I was already very familiar, forging a truly complete SEO formula is an incredibly complex process, so I knew that even if I already knew 98% of what would come out in the event, the 2% that remained would be absolute gold, for our firm and ultimately our clients.

What I Enjoyed Most


Years of studying SEO taught me one thing above all else:  most SEO's are wrong.  There's so much SEO information floating around that's lazily tested, functions as 'controversy fodder' on blogs, is outdated, or at minimum, addresses complex issues way too succinctly than is practical through channels like Twitter.  This is often true amongst even the biggest SEO blogs, and this was true at SES Chicago as well (albeit, the majority of the speakers were pretty well 'in the know').

Having the ability to ask questions of other expert SEO's directly I believe is the greatest value that SES Chicago brought forward.  Some of my favorite conversations took place with Chris Boggs (President of SEMPO) on the topic of Google bowling, with Lee Odden (CEO of TopRank) on channels to popularize newer content marketing pieces such as infographics, and Tony Wright (WrightIMC) on reputation management analytics.

What I Took Away

I left SES Chicago with 1 notebook almost completely filled up with notes and ideas that spawned amidst the conference.  47 pieces of software / online tools to try.  11 books to read.  58 business cards.  A few leads from business owners that showed up hoping to understand SEO, but left overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.  And this is key:  talks with dozens of the best SEO consultants in the world on how they actually apply the information from these events.

This was not the most widely attended conference that I've been to; not even close. But, quality exceeded quantity on a level that went well beyond my expectations. Education is a powerful tool, but it's still just a tool.  Throughout this event, I was working to mesh any new elements that I could into our SEO process, and as a result, I believe that SES Chicago was about the best $2,000 that I've invested to date. Thanks to ClickZ for putting on a great event and to everyone that volunteered great information to us this week.