Last week, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 members of the search marketing community converged on San Jose, Ca.'s McEnery Convention Center for the Search Engine Strategies (SES) Conference and Expo.
"Huge" isn't the word. "Astronomical" doesn't do it justice. "Gigantic" would be an understatement at this point. I am going to go with "Brobdingnagian" (the country of giants in "Gulliver's Travels"), because I have never seen anything quite like this in search. The convention center houses over 425,000 feet of floor space with dozens of meeting rooms that can seat hundreds or thousands depending on the configuration. This was definitely something I'd expect to see with a large consumer electronics conference or adult entertainment convention, but not search.
Four days, four tracks, and 60 or so sessions later, if you haven't been brought up to speed on search, you've spent too much time wandering the conference hall floor. Not to fret though, if you were there, you got a 300-plus page SES conference handbook. I am thinking of selling mine on eBay -- bidding will start on the low end of two boat bucks.
Let's go for a stroll (actually, we'll have to jog) though the sessions, the exhibits, the buzz and the nightlife.
All the sessions… and then some
"Impossible" might be a good way to describe an attempt to capture the essence of each session. The layout of SES provides an easy-to-navigate planner for beginners and advanced search marketers, along with handy guides for helping organic buffs along, and with advertising and marketing listings' interests. As the show progressed, three key areas emerged as the hottest topics of the week: search spam, alternative search sites and click fraud.
The fraud frenzy
Whether you call it an auditing or click fraud identifying process, making sure click traffic is genuine was on everyone's minds. A "fraudulent click" relates to a pay-per-click visit that is not delivered by a genuine site visitor. It can either be a robot or program, even a series of human clicks designed to increase site revenues for paid search site partners. That's just not nice and the general consensus seemed to be that search providers aren't doing enough to help prevent it -- because it is not in their interest to, is it? I suppose one could argue that point in both directions, but the fact is, click fraud is a global problem that transcends the boundaries of search engine marketing (SEM.)
Alchemist Media's presentation offered help in identifying click fraud by suggesting performance report scrutiny -- looking for abnormal click spikes or high click traffic with abnormally low conversion instances. Probably the most practical advice came from Reprise Media in the "Search Ads beyond Google and Overture" session. Their guidance came in the form of IP address tracking, along with watching the time frame surrounding click activity. So, if you get 10,000 clicks at 3:01 pm, they might not be real. Stop laughing, it happens. Of course the smart thieves are masking IP addresses but at this point, one has to ask the search providers to step up and help out, just a bit more.
Second-tier search clicks
Speaking of alternative search providers, at least one SEM stood up and pronounced what everyone has been thinking for ages: If the top search sites claim more than 90 percent reach, how come a big chunk of our click volume comes from the "other" search sites? Fathom Online's number was about 20 percent, a figure they expect will increase to 30 percent in 2005. The fact is -- assuming all clicks are genuine -- that "other" search sites provide a lot of qualified traffic at lower costs.
Again, the spam debate
Spamming was a hot topic, though I didn't see much on what to do after you get caught -- a process which contains elements of cleaning your site up and groveling. Search marketers love to talk about it and in order to help with the former, Beyond Ink offered practical real word advice on how to spot potential spam, and help with learning how to identify spam-related sales pitches. My favorite, however, is the simplest and best advice -- to be filed in the "when in doubt" category -- use common sense, avoid risk, forget about "gaming" the search engines, learn what looks funny, and do your homework. You can't say it any better than that.
Of course, the highlight of my session-enriched week was being called out on my COLON plan by the original search guru and SES host, Danny Sullivan, amid Wednesday's SEM evening forum. I described the plan in candid discussions relating to who should be responsible for cleaning up spam, and though I have yet to get an official endorsement from the group, I expect one shortly. Possibly. I'm hoping.
Next week: SEMPO sings the blues (not really), Google runs out of beer (it happened), and COLON kicks butt (too easy).
iMedia columnist Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands: Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations. Meet Ryan at the iMedia Brand Summit, Sept. 12-15 in Park City, Utah,