SES Chicago Day 2 Recap: Information gushing to your brain

Today was a day that I could never relive in my head, even if I tried.  I should’ve known better to think SES Chicago Day 1 was an anomaly, especially after keynote speaker Peter Morville described the internet as “information gushing towards your brain like a firehose aimed at a teacup.”  Well Peter, if you thought the internet was overwhelming with information, how about a conference dedicated to internet marketing.  Day 2 just took it up a notch, grab a raincoat and some rubber boots.

Keynote speaker Peter Morville talks Information Architecture

medium_dilbertQuestion: How many information architects do you know?

Answer: A few.

Question: How many would you invite to talk at a conference like SES?

Answer: Not one (my personal opinion).

Au contraire!  Peter Morville really connected with this crowd, in part due to his subject matter, but also his unfailing attention to detail.  Information architecture involves the organization of websites to help people find what they’re looking for, which includes overall website design, navigation, links within content, testing, and flow from section to section based on end user goals.  What I found surprising was that Peter struck a chord with everyone in the crowd, but failed to mention how to leverage web analytics to address problems in information architecture.  Somewhat of a substantial oversight, in my opinion.

End user goals aren’t as clear cut as one might expect.  It turns out that we were merely scratching the surface of some underlying deep-rooted psychology in visitor behavior.  In order for a website to be meaningful and fulfill user expectation, it must be usable, findable, credible, desirable, and acessible in order to be truly meaningful. (Thank you, Julia)

In our industry, Google does part of the information architecture for us.  For most visitors, credibility is assumed by where a website ranks in Google’s Search Results.  If you rank #1 for a particular keyword, it’s assumed that your website must be credible because Google is also a credible source of information.  Aren’t we lucky!?  Not so fast.  Google’s search results also present another problem.  Long tail keyword phrases that our sites rank highly for can be contrary to usability goals on our site, in much the same way we might rank for organic keywords we aren’t optimizing for with SEO.

To make matters seemingly worse, we’re introducing new streams of data on a daily basis.  We’re indexing data differently, we’re introducing new meta data, we’re even becoming data more and more ourselves.  Consider the sheer amounts of information we’re feeding information systems about the physical world.  We’re facing a considerable challenge of making already tiny needles in super-sized haystacks findable.  “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

How are we attacking this amazing challenge?  Peter points out a few brilliant IA concepts that have worked great thus far:

  • Auto-complete, and search discovery from Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and bundled with images on Apple
  • Filter results that are most popular, just like Google and Flickr
  • Filter based on previous user experience or consumer intent, which is harder but also possible
  • Incorporate federated search techniques, which assist in relevant source filtering, providing information others found useful further down the discovery process
  • Incorporate faceted search results, such as Google is doing now, and many ecommerce sites already incorporate, i.e. filter on size, price, color, features, etc.
  • Real time results, results that matter today aren’t necessarily what worked yesterday, i.e. “Tiger Woods” results a month ago weren’t chock full of controversy

Overall, a highly thought-provoking keynote address by Peter Morville.  Many thanks to the organizers of the show for stepping outside of the commonplace themes and take a chance.

Small Voices, Big Impact: Social Media for the Little Guy

Jennifer Laycock started this session off and approached the problem of engaging in social media using some interesting analogies, including:

  • Social media isn’t marketing, it’s more like dating.  Put the bullhorn down, and start a real conversation.
  • Social media is about listening, finding information about customers, and streamlining your message.
  • Marketers need to learn how to be romantic, learn consumer interests, give good will, and share alike.
  • Don’t expect sex on the first date, but consider the lifetime value of your consumer.
  • Be transparent, don’t pretend to be someone else (some douche bag) in social media (alright I added that part)
  • Make yourself available, take, for example KOGIBBQ which tweets location of their food truck to followers so they can plan their lunch accordingly
  • Seek out the right match, the social space is huge.  Listen to different places and find out where people are coming from.
  • Value long term relationships, lifetime value of consumer is key (a sentiment that echos yesterday’s sessions)

Jessica Kornacki was next on stage, with less of a strategy and more of a short term tactic that might open the door for your organization to adopt a social media plan.  She outlined the success of a contest to boost traffic to a travel website with zero additional advertising budget.  The campaign involved a user-generated video contest submission process and voting stages to pick a winner, but transformed the organization into a social media machine.

Eric Urbane was up next.  His case study involved an apartment rental business that involved social media.  Some of his main points were:

  • Just because they’re gonna say bad things about us, doesn’t give us an excuse not to partake in social media
  • We established clear goals for ROI, and watched that carefully
  • Be different, be remarkable.  Social media is outreach on steroids because there are different ways to get your message out there.
  • Most things we try fail, this is the new age of failing faster (as Avinash would say)
  • We can participate in conversation, but we can’t control it, and that’s okay.
  • SEO benefit from blog is incredible, core website traffic was boosted 108%

All in all, a very interesting session.  However, the most interesting real-world examples were yet to come, from Brett Tabke from PubCon no less.  He contributed the following:

  • Scrapped his marketing budget in favor of Twitter and Facebook.
  • Wasted $64,000 on pay per click advertising, admitted that after $1000 spent, it was obviously not effective to get people to register (Avinash, isn’t this failing slower?).
  • Found visitors wanted testimonials or recommendations to attend conferences.
  • Found that his 26,000 followers have 22 million followers, which equates to nearly 1.1 million unique people.
  • A little bit of social goes a long way to persuade the C-suite

PR, Social Media and Search

This was more of a no-holds-barred session than a structured one-by-one presentation style information puke-a-thon.  Every once in a while, it’s good to have a session like this, because it tempers the really intense content into manageable bites of information.  Some great insights that came from this session included:

  • YouTube is one of the most underrated social media platforms available (Greg Jarboe)
  • One major problem of social media is the lack of influence on landing pages and conversion points (William Leake)
  • I’d spent $1M on community and people, firmly believe in social media (Andy Beal)
  • Social media is affecting PR, media relations, community, conversation, and influencers. (Sally Falkow)
  • 4 keys of social media: listen, react, act, sell.  If you do 1-3 correctly, 4 just happens. (Erik Qualman)

This post is going somewhat long, so I’m going to skip over the Google Conversion Optimizer session to talk about Google product updates in a follow-up post.

News Search Optimization

This was a somewhat empty session, but all the more valuable for the handful of attendees that asked a ton of great questions to a panel of experts.  Maybe people don’t think the news is that important, but there’s a reason it’s a session.  News, social media, and traditional media are all melding.  Journalists are sometimes slow to adopt the new technologies available, so you have to reach out to them with any means possible.

Dana Todd started things off with a close look at a few strategies that worked for her and her clients.  She suggests researching editorial calendars for journalists in your industry or discipline and planning search campaigns to coincide with “gaps” that occur between when search volume and media coverage is high, but advertising is low.  Also consider the long term effect that traditional news has online, where stories don’t go away as quickly as mainstream media.  Consider news online to last up to 3 years at least.

Lisa Buyer was next up.  Lisa mentioned that she often combines traditional news releases and social media for big time ROI.  But don’t leave your SEO or social media to chance.  Drive your message home by optimizing your press releases just as you would with your website, using SEO techniques and link building, and pay close attention to UGC.  Interact with your consumers and follow-up a breaking story with journalistic fervor.  As Dana had said before, try to ram keywords and links into your CEO’s message so that it isn’t lost in syndication downstream.

Greg Jarboe, being his YouTube loving self, added that inclusion of video is highly valuable to social media press releases.  But don’t be satisfied with just doing SEO, or just doing video, or just doing images, include all of those technologies in your message.  Keep it current though, Greg warns that getting on a stale keyword trend is fruitless and frustrating.

On a question of free press release services, the panel seemed in agreement.  News wires are indexed by Google within 3 minutes of news going live.  Most other sources wait at least a few hours, and there are stringent rules sites need to fulfill in order to qualify as a news source.  Free services should be tested, but while you may get a good bang for your buck, you may get a small bang for a lot of buck, where buck equates to time.

Finally, the drinking commenced and all rejoiced!  Day 2 down, Day 3 coming right up!

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