SearchTHIS: More Brobdingnagian?

With the business of the day aside in part one we turn to more, shall we say important aspects of the capacity Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose Ca. Search seemed larger than life and while multitudes of industry experts doled out their knowledge to attendees, many feel the real deals are done on the exhibit floor -- or during the consumption of fermented entertainment while doing funnels of industry gossip near the press booth.

Let’s take a look at the information flow along the exhibits and the happenings at happening places. In this stream, mergers are more common than search spam or third-party funding, Google gets sucked dry, and one industry organization takes some flaming coals to the bunions --only to come out unscathed.

Buzz on the exhibit hall floor

The usual players in search engine marketing (SEM) were on the floor -- search engine marketing firms peddling their wares and profiling the latest in program management, along with key search sites in the biz. Among those making news in the space were Bruce Clay announcing his SEOToolSetTM Certification Program which is designed to bring some much needed sanity and regulation to natural search optimization. And LookSmart, which, in addition to releasing a whiz-bang fraud detection tool, is now keyword-capable, a departure from the old category listing options.

Proof positive that all of the good names have been taken in search,, Blow Search, and REVShare (actually a 15-year-old firm with a sound pay-per-call methodology) rounded out the floor spectacles, and the European Union was well represented with firms like Mirago, MakeMeTop and Referencement.

The big surprises for me were non-traditional or search symbiots on the floor. The Irish Government’s economic development agency was on hand, which shouldn’t be a surprise being that both Google and Overture have selected Ireland as base of operations in Europe. Analytics provider Urchin Software held its own on the floor, and last but certainly not least, dare I say, Web site design firms that provide SEM AND build search friendly sites? How about The Karcher Group and the content control people at Hot Banana Software? Is that a Hot Banana in your pocket, or… never mind, too easy.

Mergers and money for everyone

SEM consolidation and subsequent confusion is absolutely nothing new for us, but there were a few big announcements in and around SES. Every time I turned around, this one was purchased or that one got handed a wad of cash.

Fathom online got a cool five million in funding thereby epitomizing continued interest in search from venture capitol firms. Digital Impact acquired the SEM firm MarketLeap as well. I just hope they keep what I consider to be the best search engine marketing firm “destination” Web site. Not to be outdone by anyone, Marchex, Inc. (parent of the paid search provider Enhance) acquired

I caught myself wandering the exhibit hall floor and thinking aloud, “When the VC money is a flowin’ it might just indicate SEM has arrived at its heyday.” I must have been thinking a bit too loudly because OnUpWeb’s CEO, Lisa Wehr heard me and brought me back down to earth.

“There is still too much chaos out there,” she said. “We are not there yet.”

Party on search, party on marketing, party on Google?

Despite my contention that online marketers -- and most specifically search marketers -- get the old shaft-a-rooney when it comes to perks (no one is sending me tickets to Europe to do the Discovery Channel tour), SES had some kick-butt social and networking gatherings.

Monday’s activities were led by the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and a nice follow up arrived with some smooth company and music from LookSmart.

Tuesday, on the other hand saw a gala event at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. The affair began at 7 p.m. and was scheduled to continue until 11 p.m. This one, you had to see to believe. Dance floors, a band, video games and food galore -- all of which reminded us lesser humans how wonderful it must be to work at Google while we wander helplessly through our meager professional existences. Google provided buses for conference attendees so no one had to worry about getting behind the wheel after open bar boozing (beer and wine), but there was one small problem. They ran out of beer before 9 p.m. Hello? Sorry folks, but I have to call bullspit here. If I am a Google million or billionaire and I am throwing a bash, I gotta say I would get on the phone and helicopter a few kegs in before I ran out. But that’s just me.

By Wednesday, I was suffering from my now ubiquitous “food poisoning at every trade show” illness, so I missed the Yahoo! SES conference cocktail party at The Tech Museum of Innovation, but I heard it was splendid. Probably my favorite event of the week was Thursday night’s “Palestinian Nights” themed dinner party, but I later found out it had absolutely no affiliation with SES.

Fermented hops and barley shortages aside, I heard a big complaint from one brand marketer attending the week’s festivities. My anonymous marketing honcho companion pointed out a big shortcoming in each night’s events that should serve as a wake-up call for the party people.

“The get-togethers were nice, the venues were great, but where were the senior executives?” she asked. “It’s kind of uncouth to not be there, don’t you think?”

Note to the search giants, you are never too big or too good to show up at your own party. Like Eric Hoffer said, “Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.”

Truth, justice and SEMPO gossip for all

Now synonymous with Search Engine Strategies conferences are meetings with SEMPO. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several weeks, you’ve probably heard about the new .org coming under fire for, among other things, spending too much money on their fearless leader’s fees.

Yes, that’s right, in the just shy of 367 days since its formation SEMPO leaders have taken membership funds and indulged in such opulence as to make a GE senior executive blush. Pricey trips on the SEMPO Boeing 737, Central Park apartment use, Wimbledon, Red Sox and Yankee tickets, and of course, country club memberships. Wait, those perks were part of the retirement package that General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welch altruistically forfeited…my mistake.  

The truth is SEMPO has experienced unparalleled growth since its inception, a problem that might leave any group of professionals on a mission a bit lost for a brief moment. Going from zero to 250 members in a year might cause communication problems, directional issues, and, possibly call into question executive compensation, all of which were pointed out in a search marketing site posting recently. After Search Engine Strategies New York, I asked SEMPO what they planned to do with all their new found power and influence. I got my answer at Search Engine Strategies, San Jose.

Since SEMPO was formed to educate, inform, and build awareness, a critical component of their initial outlay will be bringing search to the forefront of key marketers' thought processes. “Top of Mind = Top of Search” is the new huntline and you can expect to hear a great deal more on this in key media outlets soon. Beyond that, SEMPO members and industry professionals will see primary research on SEM, committees for specialized search sectors like B2B, and, you (well, I) asked for it, honest to gosh board elections when the current leadership roles expire next year.

Speaking candidly, with the depth and breadth of bureaucratic process I have come to know and love in other areas of the ad industry, I am pretty impressed they were able to do anything at all in a year. However, that’s not to say the organization should be left to roam free without the watchful eye of its constituency.

Now, let’s talk about that COLON effort. If you need me, I’ll be sitting in the dark, listening to Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou, sipping Macallan 30 while contemplating the Golden Parachute I am going to design for my next chief executive role.

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, Ut.