SES San Jose 2009 Day 1 Recap: Clay Shirky, Analytics, Conversion and more, oh my!

Given the recent economic downturn and attendance numbers in a downward spiral over the past year or so, turnout for SES San Jose, the granddaddy of all online marketing shows, was surprisingly optimistic.  Not only are all major search engines, agencies, and tool providers on hand for the festivities, experts from all walks of marketing disciplines are presenting on their specialties.  It’s the perfect storm, in the perfect weather, at the perfect time for optimizing online marketing.

Luckily, there are two correspondents for my blog this year.  In addition to my own contributions, guest blogger Michele Peng is adding her own flavor and commentary on concurrent sessions during SES San Jose 2009.  Sweeeeeeet.

9:00AM Keynote by Clay Shirky, Adjunct Professor at NYU Tisch School, and author of “Here comes everybody“.

Clay broke the ice on day one with a solid keynote speech, highlighting the shift in consciousness that started for many of us, back more than a few years ago.  Although for some, this isn’t news by any stretch, we should make it clear that several large traditional businesses fail to understand the fundamental shift in motivation, information sharing, and decision making consciousness.

These fundamental shifts were made crystal clear in Clay’s presentation.  Instead of a one to many relationship advertisers and publishers have encountered in the past, the majority of online outlets are now run with different relationships, and different motivations.  What was once dependent on extrinsic cost/gain analyses can also be found on intrinsic “for the love of it” motivation.  The average person is now a publisher, because it’s cheap, easy, and motivated by passion.

In addition to motivation, relationships have changed in media.  Instead of broadcast television pushing messages to many, online publishing has enabled the average joe to take part in the dissemination, commenting, sharing, recommendation, and repurposing of content.  In essence, we’ve blown the old model out of the water, and publishers are either going to roll with the punches or be lost in the shuffle.

Compelling stuff for an opening keynote. is undoubtedly going to have a recap or review of the keynote as well, if not the entire archived speech.

Session 1: 10:30AM “Search: Where to Next”

Diverting from the standard “here’s my powerpoint that I assembled on the plane” presentation style, this was more of a panel-based discussion with all key players in the industry at the table.  What was interesting to note is the fundamental shift that has been building over the years, from standard search and result, to solving the problem of increased query research per visitor to more semantic results.  Semantic referring to “relevant” or “richer” in this case.

Eli Goodman, god love him, has yet to send me his pre-conference interview answers, was the shining light of this session.  comScore is often the butt of more than a few jokes when it comes to the publishing industry, but in this man, they have a rock.  Key learnings: more searches per user, longer conversion cycles, greater reliance on social interactions on Facebook and Twitter post-conversion, etc.  Keen observations from an industry watchdog and veteran in the business.  Good on you, Sir!

Session 2:  11:45AM: Creating a Web Analytics Culture

Oh, the immense challenge we all have ahead of us.  Web analytics is the key building block that has to be in place before all other efforts can be structured, planned, and executed.  Although I wasn’t too keen on Omniture’s Ron Belanger (fine, I’m biased against Omniture in general) being somewhat pitchy, what he presented did make sense.  However, the two that carried the more advanced and down to earth discussion in this session were Matt Bailey and Feras Alhlou.

Some of the best recommendations came from these two:  1. Know your audience, dumb down the science and metrics into insights and measurable, actionable changes, 2. Challenge everyone, hold them accountable for being terrible (yes, they’re terrible, “intuition is garbage”), 3. Keep questioning everything.  That’s the challenge, web analysts know what works and what doesn’t, so try to preach to the choir without losing your job and you’re bound for success.  Start with quick wins (that’s an Omniture quote, happy?).

Session 3: 1:45PM Semantic Search: Don’t Call it a Comeback

Semantic search is compelling stuff.  Because a) it relies on heavy mathemetical algorithms that deciphers user intent for search queries, and b) because it’s working to perfect the man/machine interaction.  I posed the question on twitter, are we trying to polarize humanity into ultra smart and ultra dumb?  Perhaps, but it’s an inevitable result of online evolution that occured on the desktop PC nearly 20 years ago.  I accept that now.

Semantic has everything to do with getting you complex outcomes right away, without having to explain step by step research elements.  Enticing topic that is not likely to die anytime soon.  Major projects include, WolframAlpha, and new blended results probably already in beta at Google and Yahoo.

Session 3: Meaningful SEO Metrics: Going beyond the Numbers

Oh what a great panel.  Richard Zwicky, Catfish, Jeff Ferguson, amongst others debated everything from campaign attribution, to SEO best practices, to measuring broad success, to microconversion tracking.  It’s tough to gauge a session like this because it’s so informal.  The keys are breaking down everything that is trackable to general silos, SEO when applicable, paid search is relatively easy, and branding is always difficult.  The tools are available to make this somewhat bearable, but on Jim Sterne’s advice, a log book and universal calendar of events goes to help the entire organization track trends.

Session 4: Launching a Global Website

Near and dear to my heart is local differentiation of SEO, paid search, ad copy, voice, and translation fails.  I’m somewhat happy to report that the bright side of this is, that several markets globally, according to IBM, P+G, and other brands actually look to english language sites for cutting edge technological leadership, and therefore do not require a ton of work to localise.  The bad news is, several countries will have hidden opportunities that are only realized after some hard work.  There are no set rules, because verticals and markets will vary, just be aware that your local resources can do wonders to help you fine-tune your marketing efforts.

That rounds out day 1, and with SearchBash due to drop any minute now, I’m going to stop blogging and start partying.  WooT!

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