Hot Fun in London Town

By Christine Churchill

Okay, so maybe “hot fun” isn’t the most accurate way to describe London in cold rainy February, but SES London was definitely a memorable trip.

I arrived in London on Saturday – a day earlier than most – to play tourist and (in theory) to give my body time to recuperate from jet lag. SES London didn’t start until Tuesday, but I was scheduled to teach four hours of Keyword Research training on Monday and I wanted to be reasonably well rested. However upon landing, I found myself pumped with adrenaline and heard the Sirens of London town calling my name, so I tossed my bags in my room and headed for central London on the Underground. I spent most of the weekend trekking through parks, museums, and shopping areas of downtown London. What’s a few blisters when you’re turned loose in a fascinating city with time and a credit card.

Farewell Toast to a Friend

Sunday night a small group from the search community met at a Greenwich pub to pay tribute to Jerry Bussewitz, Anne Kennedy’s beloved husband who passed away unexpectedly in December. Jerry and Anne were true soul mates and when you were around them you couldn’t help but notice the spark in their eyes for each other. Over the years Jerry attended many conferences with Anne so many of us in the search community had come to know and love Jerry. It was quite a blow to hear of his passing. Jerry was only 53 and was an avid cyclist – it was too soon for him to go. Now our thoughts and prayers are with Anne. For those who don’t know Anne Kennedy, she is one of the kindest, most loved people in the search industry. I highly recommend next conference you stop and tell her hello, or better yet, give her a hug. She’s had a tough time and she’s one of our own.

Conference Highlights

SES London officially started on Tuesday and ran until Thursday. The attendance was staggering – it had doubled over the previous show. Many of the sessions I attended were standing room only. I spoke on the Keyword Research panel and moderated three other sessions. One of the sessions I moderated was the Site Clinic which is a session I know intimately. Jake Baillie and I have been Site Clinic partners for about 5 years and we really have fun in this session playing Good Cop, Bad Cop. However, this show, Jake had a last minute emergency and wasn’t able to attend. In London I did the session with Dave Naylor, Andrew Girdwood and Gunnar Sigurosson. Part of the lure of the Site Clinic is the uncertainty and dynamic nature of the session – you never know what the audience will throw at you so you can’t skate by reciting a canned speech. To excell in a Site Clinic, requires the panelists to be well versed in all aspects of online marketing – from technical issues to every angle of SEO.

This clinic was fun and covered a variety of site issues. Several of the sites were in languages the panelists didn’t speak, which added an interesting level of complexity. The panel displayed a real command of conversion enhancement techniques which I am always pleased to see. As an online marketer, I feel it is our job to not only increase traffic to a site, but to improve the overall quality of the site so that the conversions and ROI improve.

One of the highlights of the conference was the Keynote Conversation between Chris Sherman and Google’s Matt Cutts. Li Evans did a fantastic job of capturing it for SEORoundtable. Update – I noticed my friend Andrew Goodman also wrote up an excellent in-depth coverage ot the session for Search Engine Watch . I always enjoy these conversational exchanges – they are an acceptable form of ease dropping. Matt has such a warm Southern personality everyone falls instantly under his spell when he speaks. He really is one of Google’s best PR machines (not to take a way anything from Vanessa Fox who is his female counterpart who is dynamite on her own). Chris did a remarkable job of asking the questions most of us wondered, but never get the opportunity to ask. If you missed the exchange, check out Li and Andrew’s coverages of the session.

One of the other sessions I moderated was “Balancing Paid and Organic Search” with Heather Hopkins of Hitwise and Dixon Jones of Receptional. Heather and Dixon are both seasoned professionals who openly shared their insights. I was excited when I found out that I was going to be on a panel with Heather because I have been using the Hitwise tool in recent months as one of my keyword research tools. Before the show Heather and I talked several times and she showed me some of the UK specific capabilities Hitwise offered such as being able to separate the paid and organic sources of traffic.

Dixon and I have been on several panels over the years and it is always a pleasure to share the podium with him. The guy exudes positive energy and has a fantastic sense of humor. When he speaks you’re guaranteed you’ll not only learn something, but you’ll find yourself chuckling. I noticed that both Dixon and Heather had a large crowd descending on them after the session, so I’d say with confidence the audience responded very well to them.

The final panel I moderated was the “Search Head or Tail – Getting the Mix Right” on the last day. Since I spend a lot of time in the keyword arena, I had a personal interest in hearing the advice the panelists had to offer and I wasn’t disappointed. I believe there is real skill in finding the perfect mix of head and tail words and I’m always open to hearing new techniques. The panelists David White, Barry Lloyd, Nathan Levi, Alexi Sitaropoulos, and Jed Nahum delivered real world stories about how they derived the right mix. This session also had the distinction of being the session with the most hugging involved. Maybe because it was the last session of the conference and everyone was relaxed, maybe because it was the day after Valentine’s day, or maybe its that Barry and Jed are playful beings, whatever the cause, it was an entertaining session and the panelists provided excellent information.

After Hours Fun

I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank the sponsors who hosted all the splendid parties. As a SES regular, I can tell you everyone looks forward to the relaxing evening events. The LondonSEO party hosted by the friendly Poker Party folks was an excellent way to end the week. I was a little nervous going to the party because most of my conference buddies had already left town and I wasn’t sure I’d know anyone there. Fortunately, when I walked in the door, I was given a warm greeting by my friend Ammon Johns. I hadn’t talked with Ammon in about a year, so the party gave us the opportunity to get caught up. Thanks to EvilGreenMonkey and the Poker Party gang for hosting the event and showing everyone a good time.

Another Party that week that deserves mention was the Icelandic party hosted by the gracious Kristjan Mar Hauksson. Kristjan had planned to serve the Icelandic delicacy of “rotten shark” at the party, however the Customs folks at Heathrow had confiscated the treat instead. Allan Dick and I exchanged many raised eyebrows as Kristjan described the culinary delight we were missing. “Rotten shark” is exactly what it sounds like, “rotten shark.” According to our host, if we would eat “rotten shark” and drink a curious clear beverage served in a shot glass that went by the name “Black Death” we would extend our livespan, lead happier lives, and have all types of good fortune bestowed on us. I have to confess after Kristjan left our conversation, Allan and I decided mutually that life would only feel longer after eating the “rotten shark.” Hmmmm, maybe next year after many Black Deaths I’ll be ready to participate in this Viking tradition – but then again, maybe not.

Okay, I realize I’m in ramble mode here, but before I stop I want to acknowledge someone who deserves special recognition. Those of us who attend conferences regularly often take the work behind running the conferences for granted. How smoothly the show runs can make the difference between a mediocre show and a fantastic one. At SES London, as usual, Karen Deweese and her incredible team of logistics gurus made the conference run like fine tuned machinery. There’s truly a symbiotic relationship between speakers and support team where both benefit from each other’s presence. The speakers are better speakers because they aren’t fretting about the logistics details. I’m sure the other speakers agree with me when I say “Thanks Karen for making us look good.”

Great show…see you all next show and next time I promise to actually use my camera instead of wearing it as an accessory around my neck.

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