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SMX Advanced 2007

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I’ve been attending search engine, webmaster and various sundry internet conferences for several years now. Been there. Done that. Got lots of t-shirts.

Danny’s new Search Marketing Expo Advanced was, for all practical purposes as far as I was concerned, just another search engine conference. However, on the flight back with plenty of time to do nothing I was able to think a bit about this show – and as a matter of fact, it was really really good.

Just about every show has it’s strengths and weaknesses. So I figured in order to sort of illustrate the reasons why I was so impressed with the SMX, I’d break down my criteria into what I consider the main components for a good conference. So here they are:

Attendees
Crowd
Speakers
Facilities/Food
Location
Weather
Content (quality thereof)
Length
Afterparties
Vibe

(If anybody can come up with a clever acronym using ASFLWCCLAV, do let me know.)

Attendees- This was SMX Advanced. The idea being the discussions/presentations at SMX would be conducted at a high level for an advanced audience.

In other words, we weren’t going to be sitting thru powerpoint after mind numbing powerpoint about ‘tips’ everybody should already know – more on this later. The attendees here were supposed to already be using title tags and, in fact, I think most of them fit the bill.

Sure some of them were a little full of it- you’d get the occasional ‘I’ve been using ‘such and such’ for years’ despite the fact that ‘such and such’ was only launched 6 months ago… who knows, maybe they were in the beta. All in all though, most of the attendees had a pretty good idea of what was going on. When it came time for Q&A. There were actually some really interesting and insightful Qs.

In more than one session I was left thinking the search engines represented on the panel should be sent a consultancy fee for some of the stuff they were getting from the crowd. It was in many ways, like a usability focus group made up of some of the most elite users in all of userdom. The search engines probably took home as many notes as any of the bloggers or press people.

Sometimes at conferences, the variation in skill level or knowledge can lead to things being either to confusing for some people or too mundane for others. The attendees at SMX were expected to be advanced and I believe they were. The ones that weren’t at least hid their confusion and pretended convincingly enough. So, attendees: Good

Crowd – The crowd is different from attendees. The crowd categories is more about the quantity of attendees. Some shows overbook or over sell their facilities. Their crowds then basically, well, suck for lack of a better term. Over crowding is horrible for lots of reasons. You often can’t find a seat in the session you want to attend, the wireless connections can’t keep up, the hallways are stuffed between sessions and its just hard to get around or get anything done.

Some of this goes to the facilities, but you can overbook any facility. How many people you stuff into whatever facility you use is certainly controllable by the conference people.

SMX was not overcrowded. It was full, but not too full. You could easily find a place to sit, lunch was not a mob scene, the hallways weren’t jammed — you could even catch Matt Cutts with fewer than 5 people around him most of the time — something I’d never thought possible at a search conference. Crowd: Good

Speakers – At the end of the day, a show like this is going to sink or swim based on it’s speakers. Danny, as usual, had a really good lineup. I was never really too concerned about this one. Danny’s been putting together shows like this for a long time. That said, SMX Advanced was no exception to the rule. It was quite literally a who’s of all the big search names. Speakers: very good

Facilities – Danny made lots of jokes about how much nicer the paid search room was that the one the organic track was held in. -And it was. The paid guys had tables and everything – but the organic side wasn’t exactly a dump. The walls on the organic side were just cloth partitions but that wasn’t too much of an issue. The chairs were plain but comfortable enough. You could even find an electrical outlet to plug into if you got there a few minutes before the session started.

Sometimes poeple would take cell calls and just step through the partition and -for whatever reason- mistakenly assume they were out of earshot of folks seated on the perimeter. That was a little annoying, but nothing horrible.

The press/speaker room was really nice and not too far removed from everything else – which I certainly appreciated. All in all, I thought the Bell Harbor International Conference Center was a really nice venue. So long as Danny keeps the crowd to a nice size and doesn’t try to stuff too many people in there, I think it’s easily on my list of favorite stops now.

Location – Coming from Kentucky, trips to the west coast are typically not my favorites. I’d never been to Seattle before but I thought it was a pretty cool city. It’s clean,easy to navigate and you can walk down the street without being hassled by panhandlers every 10 feet. It’s a cool place. So high marks for the location – and my high marks for spots I have to be on a plane that long for are few and far between.

Weather – It’s not really fair to factor in weather – since there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. That said, choosing a location in a time of year when that location has pretty good weather is always a good idea. I love Chicago for example – but SES Chicago is in December… Here’s a newsflash for you — Chicago in December is not pleasant.

But Seattle in June? Beautiful. The temps were in the mid 70s in the daytime and upper 40s in the evening. Everybody talks about gloomy Seattle and how it rains all the time… Maybe we just got really lucky, but I really saw no evidence of that at all. We had a misty rain for a few minutes here and there. Nothing that approached a day killer by any stretch.

Content – Like good speakers and presenters, the actual content is what makes or breaks a show. The speakers all had interesting presentations — not too much retreading going on like I’ve sometimes seen in the past. A lot of the best content came out through the Q&A sessions. This was where the advanced part of the show really shined I thought. There was no shortage of good questions, ideas and suggestions coming from this group.

Length – As far as I’m concerned, 2 days is the ideal length for most conferences. It does kind fo cut into your chances to spend much time in the exhibit hall. Of course the bigger the show the more likely you are going to run into a situation where you have to add more days. For this size show though, 2 days was perfect.

Afterparties – Good afterparties are getting harder and harder to come by on the search conference tour. It wasn’t long ago that you had to spend time thinking about which one to go to. Now it seems like you’re lucky if you can find one you can get into at all. That said, there were a couple of exceptional afterparties at SMX – and for a 2 day event, that’s a pretty big deal.

Microsoft had a pre-registration reception on Sunday night. Very nice, always good to catch up with folks you don’t see a lot. They had Xbox stations set up and they gave away some cool prizes.

Monday night, Google had a Google Dance. It was reminiscent of the annual (bigger) Google Dance in Mountain View during SES San Jose – just on a much smaller scale, which was kind of nice. There were little stations set up dedicated to various Google products, they gave out T-shirts — it was a good time. I did almost get in trouble for attempting to solicit Google secrets using carefully concealed electronic surveillance equipment hidden in my t-shirt — but that’s a long story for another day.

The best afterparty was easily Tuesday night though. The SEOmoz party at the Garage was an epic. There was bowling, billiards and beer bonging -’nuff said. There are embarrassing pictures all over from that one.

Vibe¬† – Last but not least we have that most intangible of factors.¬† The vibe at search conferences is generally very good.¬† SEOs and search marketers are typically just really easygoing, cool people.¬†¬† It’s always refreshing to come to these shows and be around people who actually understand what you’re talking about when they asks you what you do for a living.

For most of us in the industry (outside of the bay area), that conversation usually degenerates to something like ‘I work in computers’.¬† So being able to tell jokes about paid search and have people actually understand it, is always appreciated.

The size of the show and the ‘advanced’ knowledge level of the attendees also contributed to a positive vibe.¬† There was a broad sense of mutual respect and folks just generally got a long really well.¬† The ratio of speakers to attendees was also a big plus.¬† I believe the ratio was somewhere in the range of 7:1 attendees/speakers.¬† That meant smaller mobs at podiums and more accessible experts who were typically willing to listen to¬† specific issues and questions from the attendees in hallways or at lunch or wherever.

All in all, SMX Advanced was really well done I thought.¬† I have no problem saying it’s in my top 2 or 3 favorite conference stops now.¬† Looking forward to more good stuff from Danny and his SMX series.

SMX Advanced 2007
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About Mike McDonald
Mike has been covering ebusiness and the search industry for WebProNews since 2000. Follow me on Twitter! WebProNews Writer
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