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SES Chicago Day 1 Recap: Strong focus on data, ROI and LTV

I was quite surprised to see such an overwhelming emphasis on web analytics, data, integration, and core business impact metrics such as return on investment and lifetime value of the client today. It’s somewhat unusual for much of the session talk to stray far from general search marketing, because as marketers we perhaps tend to gloss over the numbers in the name of branding efforts and long term investments in growth. Not so with SES Chicago! Not anymore!

Disclaimer: Since I’m Canadian, I don’t have to put a disclaimer on my blog. How you like ‘dem apples, FTC?  However, I will because it makes my story easier to tell (and I’d like to make it back out of the country).  Today I was tweeting from both @gprzyklenk and @marketwire (I currently work for Marketwire) using the “^GP” label.  We have a sweet sponsorship idea going where we sponsored the power strips in each session room, plus we’re giving $1 per retweet of the hashtag #rt2eat as a donation to the Chicago Food Depository to a maximum of $500, in lieu of crappy marketing swag (you really don’t need another stress ball or pen).  Just in time for the holidays!

Keynote address by Jeff Jarvis, What would Google Do?

Jeff Jarvis is an extremely animated and practical guy, much like me.  Thankfully, he cut right through the pomp and circumstance of the show, and really set the stage for honest conversation throughout our three days here in Chicago.  Not surprisingly, Mike Grehan, upon announcing Jeff Jarvis, mentioned that the “freeze your ass off” conference will be moved to October in 2010, thank god.

Google is SnuffleupagusRightfully so, Jeff started by stating the world seems to look at Google as Godzilla, especially as the media (ahem, Rupert Murdoch) start their assault on search in general.  On the other hand, many of us in the room, and Google itself, likes to think of themselves as Snuffleupagus.

According to Jeff, newspapers want enemies to blame for their problems.  They’ve had 15 years to figure out this internet thing and they still haven’t done it.  As he puts it, content with no links as no value whatsoever.  The internet in general was built upon the philosophy that you have to “do what you do best and link to the rest.”  The problem isn’t Google, but Jeff warns that sentiment is changing and they’ll soon start to be viewed upon as an increasing threat.  In fact, the pay walls that the media intends on erecting will probably backfire, because the only two industries that currently use subscriptions are financial sites and pornography (not that Jeff would know about that).  Even those don’t work anymore.

The Google approach is simple.  Nothing is ever “done” because Google relies on consumers to finish their products.  A beta is important in this philosophy.  “We think this is good, how can we make it better,” opens up the development problem and asks for feedback immediately.  Giving up control is key, because it turns your worst customer into your best friend, and your best customer into your partner.

So what does Google offer to our industry?  Jeff says that the overrated focus is always on homepages.  “Homepages are bullshit,” he said, because the majority of visitors don’t land on homepages.  Another fact Jeff alluded to was the value of search traffic.  Everyone knows that organic search traffic is the most highly sought-after traffic there is, due in part to the quality of Google’s matching algorithm and page rank (whatever the equivalent of that is nowadays).  “Google gives you value for free, they don’t owe you shit,” said Jarvis.  I think I shed a single tear from my eye, it was beautiful.

Definitely recommend picking up his book, he’s a great presenter and is totally aware of the challenges that face our industry.  Good show Jeff!

Search: A Real Time Paradigm?

This concept of real time search is no stranger to conversations at SES.  Many times, marketers and content creators will question how long it actually takes search engines to index and start ranking content in the wild.  For many, Google can be seen to deliver search rankings for new content in as little as 61 minutes or faster.  Depending on the freshness and consistency of your publishing, this can be significantly faster, as evidenced by Google News.

There are tons of things you can do to get an upper hand on real time search.  The panel explained a few of these tactics:

  • User-generated content (UGC) efforts through active forums, blogs, and social media efforts certainly help feed search engines the fresh, consistent stream of content it needs for real time, and fast indexing/rankings.
  • Marketers can give their user groups and preferred bloggers a heads up whenever an upcoming story is developing, such is the case with VMware.
  • William Fischer talked about how some companies have built applications to sniff social platforms such as Twitter and generate real-time dynamic content.
  • Nathan Stoll talked about how Google Wave is like melding a conversation into a real time document.
  • Rob Walk, well, walked us through a demonstration of how the BBC generated a real time music chart that was linked to several sources, and powered by user feedback and filtering options.

Overall, a highly enlightened session, with real emphasis on establishing fresh, meaningful content that is both semantic (assisting people make decisions with lots of data) and valuable to visitors.

Breaking news: Although not during this session, Google later announced that real-time search was now live on their search engine.  If you type in any Twitter handle, for isntance, you might see a scrolling live list of tweets.  Try the hashtag #seschi and you’ll see what we saw during the conference.

How to turn your web analytics into a money-making machine

Remember when I said data and ROI had a strong voice at SES Chicago?  This is what I meant.  Jim Sterne, Phil Mui, and the slimmer, svelter, professional speaker, Bryan Eisenberg.

Bryan Eisenberg up first, and surprisingly doesn’t mention his goal of “GTC” which stands for “Get the cash”.  Maybe next show?  With Bryan’s presentation, he really looked rushed, but he pulled it off like a champ.  His main points were:

  • We have a data overload problem, we have tons of data and no idea what to do with it all.
  • We need to list and prioritize improvements, and introduce a cycle of planning, improving, and measuring to get anywhere.
  • Biggest impact and lowest cost items should be weighed against lower impact low cost changes, wimpy stuff like button color.
  • Test, test and test some more.  It’s easy, it’s often cheap or free, and there are 69 tools you can use to test a variety of things.

Next up is Phil Mui, of Google Analytics.  Oh Phil, am I ever glad you came to SES Chicago buddy.  Although much of Phil’s presentation was the same old spiel, and obviously derived at least in part from an Avinash presentation, Phil spilled the beans on some interesting Google insights:

  • Visitors prefer non-www display URLs in advertisements
  • Visitors prefer shorter domain names, 4-6 characters long in ads
  • Visitors don’t like exclamation marks in ads
  • Visitors Prefer Mixed Capitalization in Ad Text
  • Visitors prefer numbers that are numerical (’1,2,3′) versus spelled-out
  • Visitors prefer display URLs without sub-directories
  • Visitors that click on display URLs with sub-directories, like shorter sub-directories

Breaking News: Although this is all fine and good for a PPC marketer, and makes me smile for including such wisdom on my blog, it’s not the big news Phil (you heard it @marketwire first) may have broke at SES:

  • Google doesn’t like talking about the future of product releases
  • Google Analytics is due for conversion assists, i.e. multi-campaign/source attribution models in 2010 (WHOA!)
  • Google Analytics might include organic search rank positions for keywords in 2010 (AMAZING!)

Sorry Jim, although your piece was informative, you were somewhat overshadowed during this session.

Lunch with Google Analytics

I’ll admit, lunch is usually not the highlight of any conference.  However, Chicago was different. The food was decent for conference food, and this time, Google’s Phil Mui took center stage again, during the feeding of the herd to make some crucial announcements (which may or may not have been heard over the loud gestation of sandwich wraps and tortilla chips).

  • Tracking code wizard is now available in Google Analytics to help make tagging pages much easier, and provide custom code during install.
  • Segmentation on custom variables.  This wasn’t clear, but it sounds and looks like pivot tables in Google Analytics, which is a huge OMG moment for us #measure geeks.
  • Context tracking through the addition of annotations directly on the data.  See a spike and know why it happened?  Share that tribal knowledge ASAP with a note on the graph.
  • Enhanced API that enables access to all the above features.

What an amazing gift from Google for the holidays.  Unfortunately, it was tough for Phil to get the message across, but those that were listening and could understand his presentation were all abuzz on Twitter.

Meaningful SEO Metrics, Going Beyond the Numbers

Just like SES San Jose, this was more of an open forum with panelists spurring on conversation amongst each other.  Here are a few sound bites from the session:

  • SEO metrics don’t mean Jack for the c-suite, all they want to know is whether they are millionaires yet.
  • SEO should be a marketing effort, not an IT project.
  • 80% of companies surveyed said they have a formal PPC campaign strategy, but only 20% have said they also have an SEO strategy.
  • Companies can’t look to branded terms for success in SEO, those are usually a given.  Non-branded keywords you target in PPC campaigns should be what you aim to rank for with SEO.
  • If you get SEO right, paid search spend comes down.  When PPC and SEO results show up in the same SERP, visitors usually click organic (saving you money!)
  • Setup your analytics BEFORE working on SEO, because decisions have to be made from accurate insights.
  • Engines can see people visit your site, but without good SEO, they don’t know why.

Overall, a very successful panel, I’d imagine.  Thanks to Chris Boggs, Richard Zwicky, Jeff Ferguson, Dave Tan, and Linda Ramsey.

Search and the Integrated Marketing Mix

This session was extremely granular, and much as I appreciate a lot of detail, it pains me to repeat each and every word verbatim, so I’ll include only the high-level speaking points that echoed the sentiment of this session:

  • Integrated marketing efforts are the only way companies can manage blended attribution across multiple campaigns or touch points.
  • As a general rule, keyword research echos intent and enables persona profiling across the entire conversion process, not just online marketing channels.
  • It is entirely possible to bring offline and online channels together, but it’s not easy.
  • Internal turf wars are unavoidable with integrated marketing and blended attribution, forgo the ego and turn to the numbers.

Great insights from our panelists.  One particularly strong voice in the panel was that of Vivek Chaudhuri of Digitas Health.

Beyond Googling: 5 Years Later and it’s a Different Audience

Running out of steam at this session, but probably one of the most advanced, cutting edge talks in a while.  If you think social media is the wave of the future, you’re already living in the past for this session of panelists.

Javed Panjwani of Wolfram Alpha was first up, showcasing some of the search queries and results available from the semantic search engine:

  • Query: “weather in big apple when obama turned 40″ is input in Wolfram Alpha
  • Result: 78 degrees F, overcast with rain

Does no one else think this is something special?  First off, the algorithm has to translate common language into code that a computer can understand, analyze, and then spit out a suitable response for, and it’s gotta be correct.  In this case, the algorithm has to understand that a weather request is being made for “big apple” which refers to “New York City.”  Then it has to understand the point of reference being Barack Obama’s 40th birthday.  It then has to “do the math” so to speak, assemble the weather details and spit it all out in under 1 second.  Easy?  Not really!

When asked to comment on development resources after his presentation, he said that wasn’t such an easy answer either.  Roughly 200 or so developers currently work on Wolfram Alpha and Mathematica.  Amazing stuff.

Anne Kennedy is my second favorite for this session.  She looked into her crystal ball and reflected on what she considered the future of search in five years:

  • Little to no revision of search queries.
  • Instantaneous results in all formats.
  • Live stream of personalized information.
  • Suggested discovery, similar to Amazon’s suggested products, but catered very highly and accurately over time to your personal taste.
  • A shift to visual representations of everything, including mobile.

And that closed out the sessions for day 1.  I’m in no mood to write a concluding paragraph tonight, so all I’ll say is that I’m looking forward to more information overload tomorrow!

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