Looking Back at SES NYC 2007

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My favorite part of working at a Search Engine Strategies Conference is writing about the sights and sounds later. My experience is different from many of the stories told because I don’t attend private parties or stay out all night drinking (the proper term for both is “professional networking”, of course.)

I feel I’m there to give something back to an industry where I started out as a single mom with two small children, sacrificing my dignity during the daytime for a company whose CEO felt that webmasters were “worth $5 an hour”, and freelancing in SEO or teaching myself new skills at night while my children slept.

Twelve years later, I get the biggest thrill from reporting on sessions for those who can’t get to the conferences; because for years and years, neither could I.


Though the conference began Monday, I arrived Tuesday evening, around 8:30pm with my husband Eric, who fills many roles. I have trouble seeing distances, even with correction, and he is my “guide person”. He is also very smart and appropriately “geeky”, works in a field related to mine and is becoming more involved in my work because he is very experienced with automation, recording tools and software testing. He also knows many SEO’s and they like to see him.

We live less than a 2 hour drive from New York city but ran into massive traffic tie-ups a few blocks to the hotel (some movie premiere I later heard). We were supposed to meet a group of friends for dinner, including my good friend, Bill Slawksi. Though we missed the dinner gathering, we caught up with him later at the bar, where we were catching up with all kinds of folks, including these three top Women in SEO – Deb, Christine and Jill.

Bill left for home later that night, taking a late train.

That night, I finally met:

Michael Gray (aka “Graywolf”). The picture includes Chris Sherman, who took the time to explain to me why my blog is not on SearchEngineLand’s blogroll. It wasn’t easy for me to inquire and I appreciated his information.

I recognized Todd Malicoat sitting at a table with Mike Gray, so I went over to say hello to Todd, and then goofily made my way to Mike, completely ignoring the woman sitting next to him, because I really wanted to meet Mike (and I was totally focused on that.) The woman tapped my arm and asked if I knew who SHE was, and thank gawd, I realized it was Rae Hoffman, a legend in her own right. I thought she was a blond. Anyway, meeting Rae was funny and a long time in coming. She took several SEO women out to dinner on Thursday night, so you may hear about that event at some point. I saw them when they returned from their road trip, and all ladies were feeling very well, suffice it to say.

Liana Evans wowed everybody with her “new” hair. (I’m looking for a good picture of it when it was down, rather than pulled up.) Christine Churchill told me Li looked like Drew Barrymore. Li and her co-worker, Greg Meyers work for a company located not far from where I live. Li lives about 30 minutes from me, which means both of us get to joke about living near a big nuclear power plant, which may or may not explain a few things about us…I digress.

I was sitting next to Tamar (photo of her and Jeremy “Shoemoney” Shoemaker, whose body was taken over by demons – note the eyes) in the press room, when she says to me, “Do you think I should take a picture of Danny?

Danny Sullivan was finishing up with a Webpronews interview session at the table behind us. I mumbled (ie. whined), more to myself than Tamar, that the last time I took a photo of Mr. Sullivan, my flash nearly blinded him and he got mad. He didn’t know it was me, but nevertheless, I’ve always felt badly and swore from that moment on I’d never take his picture and would try to melt into the woodwork if I were to ever be near him again. I said something to Tamar about she could do it, but I wouldn’t be taking the chance again.

This picture of Danny Sullivan and Rand Fishkin is the result of Tamar not listening to me. Turned out quite well, I think.

Also met:

Nathan Weinberg for the first time. I love his hair.

Sessions I covered for SearchEngineRoundTable:

Converting Visitors Into Buyers
Successful Site Architecture
Social Search Overview
Search Behavior Research Update
Shopping Search Tactics
Usability and SEO
CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & Search Engines

Listened in on, but Liana Evans reported on:
Web Analytics & Measuring Succes

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Part 2

I can’t decide if I should be sad that I wasn’t invited to the party where there was pole dancing or not.


I eased into Wednesday by way of free breakfast.

Funny thing about that. When we arrived to the hotel the night before, I proceeded to use the automatic check-in computer system. When I got to the end of the steps, after being assigned a room on the 8th floor, the machine wouldn’t cough up the room keys. This is happening to a couple who do usability and performance testing for a living. I thought that was funny.

We were forced to go stand in line and when we finally got to the check-in desk employee, I was already miffed about their computer, and having missed dinner with Bill Slawski, Christine Churchill and other friends. I told the guy I had a room but no keys. For the next five minutes, we watched as he made phone calls and fiddled around with papers. Finally, he gave us keys to an Executive Level room, that included free food on the 44th floor. No reason was offered and no apology for their computer problem.

So, after a nice quick breakfast of juice and fruit Wednesday morning, I went down to start my day of reporting sessions for SearchEngineRoundTable. First stop was the keynote address.

Eric came with me, and we arrived early to get a seat down front. Lisa Barone was already there, and had peeked inside the ballroom earlier, which is how we knew MsDewey was on the premises. Lisa wanted very much to meet Danny Sullivan but didn’t have the nerve to go up to the stage, where he was preparing for his interview. I had met Danny two years ago, for a scant 15 seconds at another SES, and was unsure about walking up there.

A man sitting in front of us heard Lisa and I debating about getting the nerve to walk up to meet Danny. He insisted that Mr. Sullivan is very friendly and wouldn’t mind, but neither of us was going to interrupt him. By that time, Barry Schwartz, Tamar and Liana Evans had arrived down front, and were encourging Lisa to go up to the stage. Just as I decided to lead her up there myself, the gentleman in front of us in the front row, who apparently knows Danny, called Danny Sullivan down from the stage to meet Lisa.

It was cute. I got to witness it and shake Danny’s hand, but really, the moment was all Lisa’s, as he was obviously happy to meet her. Lisa is a very dedicated SEO blogger who works for the esteemed Bruce Clay. She made her mark by good writing and reporting and is part of the next generation of search engine marketers.

I had wanted to meet Lee Odden because we always seem to be rushing past each other at conferences. I’ll flash a nod and smile at the handsome tall man and trust me, that’s not enough. Lee has been around a long time. I finally got to chat with him a little bit in the press room. He was with Larry Chase, whom I’d met two years ago during one of those famous Mike Grehan dinners. (Mike didn’t attend this conference due to a death in his family. Jill Whalen subbed for him.)

Somehow, I didn’t get my picture taken with Lee, but he graciously took one of Larry and I before we all had to run off to wherever we had to be next.

Later that evening, while standing with some friends at the lobby bar, I suddenly heard someone yell, “KIM!” really loud. To my amazement, there was this beaming man with earrings, huge eyes and a brilliant smile standing before me and I had no freaking idea who he was, though he looked familar somehow. Turns out it was Jim Hedger, who after he said who he was, I had my “duh” moment. Of course! Jim did a fantastic interview of me, after I hassled him about something he once wrote in an article on usability. I’d since come to know him as a great reporter and interviewer, so this was a real pleasure. He introduced me to Ross Dunn of StepForth as well.

Jim Hedger was invited to the SEO Womens Lunch to honor his writings about women in the industry. David Temple was the other male honoree, for his contributions to supporting women in the industry and helping to bring them recognition. By coincidence, it was David Temple who introduced himself to me in Chicago, in much the same way, with a sudden “Kim!” yelled out, followed by, “I just love you!”, which was all the more hilarious since he was booming that over the head of my husband.


This was the day for Liana Evans’ SEO Womens lunch gathering. It was also when the temperature took a nose dive and it poured rain all day. Eric had been running a fever and by Thursday was dealing with swollen glands. Li had lost her voice and wasn’t feeling well. While the gathering was for women only, with two invited male guests, she said Eric could come with me, so we could get him some chicken soup.

He, me and Tamar braved the elements on foot for the few blocks to the resturant. By the time we arrived, we were soaked. I felt dreadful for dragging Eric outside and to make matters worse, he felt weird being the only man there, so he went back to the hotel. He wanted me to have a good time but I couldn’t really relax, knowing he was sick.

The two tables eventually filled with a remarkable showing of some of the most amazing women I’ll ever be in the same room with. Anne Kennedy, Shari Thurow, Rebecca Lieb, Amanda Watlington, Jill Whalen, Christine Churchill…there were women there whose faces were familiar and some who were brand new. All of them are gifted, with some being huge contributors to the search marketing industry.

My long hair was soaked and my jacket was dripping wet. Since I had to race back to report on another session, I only had time to shove down a bowl of soup. Christine Churchill and I giggled and goofed off as we always do when we get together. She’s a soul sister. Jill Whalen needed to get back to speak at 2pm, so she and I tore out at 1:45, without a goodbye (I realized later).

I could think of many women who weren’t there, but there was a moment I’ll always treasure. It was when I sat for a few minutes to just listen and absorb the energy. It was electric. I’m sure Liana will write about it in full. I’d like to thank her for inviting me. What an honor it was to be there.

That night, after dinner with some SEO friends, we hung out in the lobby bar in a small group that eventually grew to include Rae and the group she took to dinner (Tamar, Lisa, and Rebecca and Jane from SEOmoz.org). With Eric not feeling well, and my being the oldest person sitting in the entire group and becoming acutely aware that I was, I ended the night early, only to learn that I missed meeting “the famous fiance” I hadn’t had the chance to meet yet…and was wondering if I ever would.

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Part 3

By Friday, I was in my reporting groove and facing the task of reporting a technical session on AJAX, CSS and Search Engines. Ever since I told Eric about AJAX, he’s been fascinated by the possibities of what it can do. Me, on the other hand, can’t help thinking it’s the stuff in the little blue can.

Eric got more out of the session than I did. He spent every available free second I had (and there were many while waiting to get through the Lincoln Tunnel later that day), excitedly explaining to me how it can be used, and why URLS don’t change on the pages that include some sort of groovy AJAX application.

I neglected in Part One to mention that I met Chris Winfield of 10e20.com again. I had met him at an SEO gathering in Pennsylvania a few months ago. That was before he was married and I could still technically flirt with the cute guy. (Eric thinks this is funny.) Chris brought his new wife and business partner, Danielle, to SES NYC, and I was introduced to her. They are very New York and very much still on their honeymoon. (Eric thinks this is funny too. Why is that?)


I went to bed before Midnight, which by traditional SES standards is blasphemy, but it permitted me to be awake for my 10 am Webpronews interview with Mike McDonald. I think my interview in Chicago may be better.

For this one, we jumped all over the place and I don’t think we got into anything really meaty. He asked me about SEO and usability and the traditional, “Why usability, with SEO?” question. (Answer? Because investing in optimizing for search algorithms is only step one in the marketing process. Step two is optimizing/designing/persuasion for people. Otherwise, if a page falls in the search engine forest, nobody will hear it.)

We chatted a little about Cre8asiteforums and how it came to be. We also touched on my favorite topic of human Internet behavior and what we’re learning about it. We’re moving beyond designing the what, where and how. Now, we want to understand why visitors make choices and how they use things like search in their daily lives. Social media adds a thrilling layer of challenges, as niches are narrowed and communities are formed. All of this behavior and changes in existing habits will play a part in SEO/M and user centered design.

I really like Mike. I immediately did, when I met him in Chicago. This time, I wasn’t rushed for time. I arrived early for my chance to sit in front of the video equipment and pretend to look “natural”. After it was over, Mike and I kept on chatting. I think the better part of the experience came after the camera was turned off. We talked about our kids, their sports, him missing his little girl’s first soccer game and me missing my son’s first track meet this week. I had to catch Matt Bailey and Shari Thurow’s SEO and Usability session, but truly, talking with Mike was one of the highlights of the day, and I thank him for inviting me to sit in that scary interview chair.

Minutes later, I was reporting on Matt and Shari’s session for the third time. It’s a session that I could speak on as well, but they do a fine job. Shari is detailed. She always goes over her time, but this is because she really gets into teaching and she has so much to offer. She shows example pages with the precise placement of content and keywords, with the logic behind those choices that meet both SEO and usability requirements.

Matt is famous for getting audiences to understand the value of usability and accessibility by showing examples of poor design and execution. One only has to see his Butt Paste and Star Trek slides to be forever grateful for his gentle, but on target, reminders.

I Meet Mystery Guest

There was something different about this conference. I noticed it early on. For starters, this was the first time we never congregated in the “dark bar” called The Brick. Everyone I usually get together with was either at a private party, in the city playing, or would finally straggle into the lobby bar later, to see who was left alive and kicking. Where once the hotel seemed taken over by SEO’s, this time it didn’t feel like that. While I didn’t see as many of the top names mingling around, every session was packed.

I didn’t see people I usually would see unless I was invited to be where they were.

I resigned myself to the idea that I wouldn’t meet Geraldine, Rand Fishkin’s fiance (aka “MysteryGuest”). I thought it would fun to meet the woman who inspired Joe Morin to move mountains and Rand to propose on TV.

As Eric and I were dropping off the keys to our room, we chanced to run into Joe Morin in the hallway as he was getting ready to catch his plane. Moments later, as we rounded the lobby bar, I saw Rand and Geraldine sitting there. And so it was, that at the very end, I got to meet her and see for myself who this funny writer and apple of Rand’s eye really is.

A short distance away, the rest of the SEOMoz crew were glued, bleary eyed, to their laptops. I marveled in the car later to Eric, at how just a two years ago, Rand was just the guy with the odd yellow shoes who introduced himself to me at an SES conference in New York. Now he has an entourage.

We left the hotel at 3pm. An hour later, we were still in New York, a bare 2 miles away, trying to get into the Lincoln Tunnel. Traffic was the worst snarl of cars I’ve ever seen in my life. We sat on a ramp to the Tunnel, along with a jumble of other cars, in what looked like a parking lot rather than a road with cars that are supposed to be moving. Even the man who was trying to sell flowers gave up, as nobody was in a flowery mood.

We got home at 7pm, two hours after we could have been, had the roads been passable. I learned later that someone jumped off the Empire State Building at 3pm. I’m not sure if that’s why everything stopped, but it will be a long time before I’ll be able to hear a car horn again without thinking of New York city.


This SES conference was the last in a long line of Danny Sullivan-led events. He moves on with his own SMX: Search Marketing Expo in June. It will be smaller and on advanced topics.

Search Engine Strategies lives on and this year it will be even be visiting China.

As long as there are search engines and search, there will be companies who want their sites listed in them. While the search engine marketer can make websites rock in rank and visibility, the folks in user centered design, accessibility, persuasion architecture and usability will make sure those clicks are worthwhile once visitors arrive.

This is my only reporting assignment, as far as I’m aware, for this year. It was an honor and a real joy, to serve.

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Looking Back at SES NYC 2007
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