I still remember my first SEO conference, SEO Campixx in Berlin, and how stunned I was to meet so many like-minded marketers. I felt inspired by the presentations, intimidated by how smart some of the speakers were, and lucky to build so many relationships. Little did I realize at the time how valuable conferences and meetups for the SEO industry are.
Covid has shown us the unique value of decentralized networks when doctors and researchers shared observations in lightspeed, leading to a record speed development of the most valuable vaccine in the world. Many deaths and infections could probably have been prevented had we listened to science earlier, but the fact that a doctor in Italy could try something out and share it with a researcher in Seattle is nothing sheer of incredible.
SEO works similarly: it has a crowd-sourced body of knowledge. We reverse engineer what works or learn from trial and error. If we all kept our lessons and observations to ourselves, we wouldn’t be nearly as far advanced as an industry. But SEOs learned that 1 + 1 = 3 when they give back.
That makes SEO conferences a unique connection point of nodes. Ideas flowing through the system get more robust and applicable as long as the nodes keep sharing. Many of my best ideas came from conferences.
Napa Search Summit
I feel privileged to attend a conference again after we lost almost 4M lives worldwide with many countries still in lockdown. Fast forward to 2021, ten years after my first conference, and I just attended my first post-pandemic conference: Napa Search Summit.
I used to write summaries of presentations but then realized that it’s not fair toward the organizers and attendees who paid to hear them live. Instead, you’ll find pictures I took at the conference across this blog.
Before the pandemic, I attended roughly 10 conferences a year. Granted, that’s way too much. I made a commitment to tone attending and speaking at conferences down significantly to maybe 3-4/year. Speaking can become an addiction. However, after staying at home for about 1.5 years, attending Napa Summit reminded me how vital conferences are for SEO.
Tech SEO Boost
When I spoke at Tech SEO boost in 2018 and introduced my TIPR Model, I met JR Oakes who eventually created a script to calculate CheiRank. Russ Jones asked me a question at the end of my presentation that led to the model of content-driven and inventory-driven sites and later aggregators vs integrators. 3 years later and I count myself blessed to work with Paul Shapiro, founder and chairman of Tech SEO Boost.
There are two types of people in the world. The ones who know a lot and the ones who know who to ask for advice. Conferences help you develop both.
Go beyond attending sessions and learn from speakers and attendees directly. You don’t get a lot of chances to discuss ideas and (your) challenges with some of the best in the game. When you approach speakers with humbleness and politeness, your chances of getting a good answer are high. Don’t be too transactional! The key is to give and expect nothing in return. True SEOs will reciprocate.
Smart SEOs plan ahead. Before going to a conference, they look at the agenda and write down questions based on session titles and descriptions that fit uniquely to their challenges. They make the most of their time. In best case, the value you get from that equals many consulting hours and far exceeds the value of the ticket.
In 2017, I spoke at a small Growth meetup in Dusseldorf, Germany, and gave a presentation based on an old article about machine learning and SEO.
It made its way through Silicon Valley and ultimately arrived at the German Accelerator. They recruited me and I’ve been a mentor for Growth ever since. That allowed me to learn from countless startup founders, meet smart growth experts, land angel investments, and gain first-hand experience.
Before the pandemic broke out, I gave a talk at the Beers & SEO meetup in Raleigh, NC, where I met Patrick Stoxx, JR Oakes, and lots of other smart folks. I was also able to test my slide deck for the year like a comedian testsing new material and refining it before he gets on a larger stage. The feedback was invaluable!
Never eat alone
The social part of SEO events is at least as important as the sessions, maybe more. Huddling in small groups and exchanging notes at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and socializing at the party is one of the best things you can do for your career. That’s where I learned some of the best tips and tricks in SEO and got to know many amazing people I still regularly meet at events.
The best conferences give you the feeling of meeting your classmates again 20 years after graduating from college (not that I’d now…).