This post was penned by Michael, our head of search.

Before last week I had never been to California or the SES Conference, but now I can proudly say I took both by storm.

The first thing I realized upon my arrival in San Francisco was that, even in August, it is COLD (at least to my Texan sensibilities). The second was that there is a SO MUCH to do and see.  My Search Engine Strategy Conference trip was a sight, sound, and information whirlwind, so I think it’s best to break down my experiences in two sections: The Conference and The City. Let’s get to it!

The Conference:

SES San Francisco kicked off on Tuesday with an impressive keynote by Avinash Kaushik, THE Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google. The takeaway for me was that everyone looks at the Macro Conversions (The big stuff, online store purchases, etc), but most everyone is missing out on the Micro Conversions (newsletter signups, time on site as a value of learning, etc.), because those micro conversions give you the full picture of how your site is doing, and as a result, they should not be overlooked. Additionally, he showed us different ways to view data, as well as a way to calculate truly valuable social metrics.

Matt Cutts also made an SESSF appearance. If you haven’t heard of Matt, he’s basically the Justin Bieber of the search world, if that world was made up of high school girls. Matt’s panel was mostly Q&A with the audience. A few interesting tidbits: Panda is the last name of one of the engineers who worked the most on the update. Also, he dispelled a common myth among SEO professionals regarding duplicate content. According to Cutts, Google doesn’t actually ding you for duplicate content; it just doesn’t help your rankings to have that identical text on different parts of your site.

Additionally, Cutts was asked how online businesses are supposed to operate with Google continuing to buy certain industries (Frommer’s was mentioned specifically). He replied that Google is obviously going to try and return the most relevant result to the users query, but certain queries, such as “What’s the weather look like today?” are obviously low-engagement short answers that Google can handle on it’s own. On top of that, SEOs were told to be prepared for the upcoming updates, as the could be intense (ominous, right?), so yeah….get ready.

Throughout SESSF, Cameron, Eddy, and myself split off into various tracks, as there were many important sessions that could only be absorbed by dividing and conquering. I focused on sessions related to the interpretation of Big Data (arguably one of the top Search Buzzwords of 2012), retargeting, and advanced paid search and analytics strategies.

It’s obvious that big data is in, because this is America and we don’t drive Fiats (though I did). We drive Ford F-150’s because they are big. Honestly, I’m not sure how that relates to data, but whatever, it works. We produce a ton of data, so much that every two days, we create as much data as what existed before 2003, so the question is, how does one deal with all that data?

The answer is through tools, data-scientists, and some good know-how.

Essentially, a lot of the answers to your questions about your site and advertising campaigns are within the data, you just need to know what you’re looking for.  The challenge is to interpret that data once you find it, and strategize how you’re going to use that data to improve your site and campaigns. To do that you need someone who is skilled at looking at data and making something of it, as well as utilizing proper analysis tools. Consider looking at InfoChimps and BloomReach.

Retargeting and Big Data were the topics of 2012, but most everyone was in agreement that Multi-Channel Attribution would be the topic of 2013. What is Multi-Channel Attribution, you ask? It’s about going beyond the last click and looking at the conversion process from start to finish. I’ll be writing a post on this topic soon, so stay tuned!

While I was in big data land, Cameron and Eddy focused on social and search integration, website migrations, and competitive analysis. With our powers combined, we covered a good chunk of the SESSF advanced sections, and gained insights that we’ll be implementing with our current clients, as well as processes for both internal use, and for future clients.

Thinking about SESSF for others, I’d recommend this conference to department heads, as well as decision makers who work with search companies. It helps give you an understanding of what us search people do. Additionally, you learn and see how other companies got around traditional concerns, such as a limited budget, or limited understanding about the benefit of search. So when it comes time to pick out your conferences to attend for the year, the Search Engine Strategy Conference  in San Francisco better be one of them.

If I had to pick one take-away from the entire conference, it would definitely be the keynote by Avinash. I’ll say it again, looking at conversion points beyond the macro is a huge missed opportunity for most companies, so focusing on getting all the micro conversion points is a must.


The City:

Great food was consumed (Nojo and Delfina’s) and so were great drinks (Wilson and Wilson and The Library), my favorite spot in San Francisco was Smugglers Cove. Imagine A Joe’s Crab Shack crammed into a space a fourth that size, but then make it three stories tall with a hip-cat 60’s vibe, basically the coolest bar in the whole world.

What I love about San Francisco is the hustle and bustle, the boutique shopping districts, the hills, and of course the trains! Now, it is well documented that I am a train enthusiast, but if trains aren’t your thing there’s always Uber for your transportation needs.

Besides trains, I am also an enthusiast of clothing and while in SF I had the pleasure of meeting Dean & Mark from BeGood Clothing. Let me tell you, they are doing some AMAZING things. BeGood is a store where the Buy One/Give One model of Tom’s is applied to EVERYTHING they sell. The store itself is built from reclaimed wood for a classic, repurposed feel, and Dean & Mark are about the nicest guys I’ve ever met. As a result of our BeGood Clothing experience, BuzzShift will be helping them with their digital strategy and I could not be more excited!

From The City to The Conference, SESSF was a complete success.  I certainly gained valuable knowledge and ways to implement great search tactics and tools. Would I go back next year? Absolutely, I can’t wait for the conference next year, because there will be even more to learn about topics not even thought about yet! Plus, there’s still so much more of San Franciscos to see!


image credit