Where will search be seven years from now?

April 15th, 2007 Jackie

Search Engine Strategies New York has come and gone. It’s Saturday, so I’ve been home for a full 24 hours, yet I can’t stop thinking about  my experience as an old timer/newbie.

How can I be both?

It’s a funny story that begins seven years ago when I attended the only other Search Engine Strategies conference I’ve ever been to, also in New York. I was able to dig up this old press release about the event and the conference agenda is still available right here on the SES Web site.

Wow, things have changed. The conference wasn’t even a conference back then – it was a one day seminar with back to back sessions all taking place in the same room. I clearly remember having a blinding headache by 5 pm. I also remember shaking Danny Sullivan’s hand (and only having to wait about 5 minutes to do it) and thanking him for putting out all the content on Search Engine Watch, which is how I learned about SEO in the first place.

Last week’s conference was so utterly different from that one-day seminar about getting listed in search engines that I would’ve sworn it was a completely different industry if it weren’t for that fact that many of the same faces still circulated the sessions. But there were so many changes that made me feel like a wide-eyed newbie in an industry I’ve worked in for nearly ten years that I can’t quite shake the Twilight-Zone feeling of unreality even now.

Rebecca Lieb, who I had the pleasure of sitting across from at the Women of Search luncheon on Thursday (organized by Li Evans), nailed one aspect of sweeping change in her recent Clickz post titled, “Search Chicks.” The vast amount of women who now dominate the industry is a relatively new phenomenon. Says Rebecca:

“That first Boston conference [in 2001] was attended by a few hundred propellerheads, and there was never, ever a wait for a stall in the ladies’ room after a session.”

I, for one, definitely had to wait in line for a stall.

As an old search veteran in this new search world, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the industry seems to have lost its new car smell. Even though it sort of feels like 1999, when the Internet was going to change everything and startups were burning through VC funds like Monopoly money, things…aren’t….the same.

I felt it, many of the other industry veterans pretty much stated it out loud (when asked what products/services he was most excited about, Danny Sullivan replied, “none.”) Likewise, Dana Todd stated that all search engines but Google were too boring to talk about and warned we were in a second industry-wide bubble which was in danger of bursting.

I have to agree with Dana, things feel very bubbly and uncertain - a feeling that is all-too-familiar to those of us that survived the dot-com massacre which began some time in 2000 and dragged on painfully throughout 2001 and 2002.

It was like I had a jaded, cynical angel versus a wide-eyed newbie angel, sitting on each shoulder, battling for my resolve throughout the entire conference. At one point I met a young woman with only four months of experience in SEO, who excitedly told me that she’d do just about anything to work in this industry, even if it meant working for free. Did I ever feel that way? If I did, I can’t remember. Jaded angel wins.

Yet after speaking with her I briefly let myself see the industry through red-wine colored glasses starting on Wednesday evening when I had the amazing experience of dining out with Dana Todd and some of her close friends.  I found myself sitting at a table having wine and dessert with Dana, Jessie Stricchiola and Anne Kennedy. Yes, I felt completely out of my league. Newbie angel wins.

The evening ended with more drinks at the hotel bar where I got some great advice on speaking on a morning SES panel from Dave Williams (don’t drink coffee or you’ll talk too fast) and finally got an opportunity to introduce myself to Chris Boggs whose company I actually work for (freelance). I know I’m name dropping. I don’t care. (newbie angel wins…again)

It was almost anticlimactic that I got my chance to speak at SES, finally, after all those years, on Friday the 13th. Half the attendees had left on Thursday, the exhibit hall had been torn down and it was the first session in the morning. I kid you not when I say no more than 50 people attended, I was the first to speak after the moderator, Sara Holoubeck, and I think my slides missed the mark (the topic was “Ad Agencies: Understanding the Search Difference”)

I should’ve talked about how I love search, how being a search marketer has changed my life, by giving me financial independence and putting me on an amazing career track, but also by allowing me to flex my writing muscles time and time again. And, oh, the people I’ve met!

But instead I gave a short intro about my background that mostly read like a resume and scurried to my seat at the panel in terror (Newbie angel wins). But when it came time for Q&A, I decided to forget my fear and talk about what I know including exactly how I think a campaign should be managed, if one is to manage it correctly (jaded angel with big ego wins).

So now, as I sit here marveling at the sheer length of this post and trying to suppress a new, rising feeling of excitement about the industry, I can’t help but wonder what Search Engine Strategies will be like seven years from now when SES is a two-week long conference with 500 sessions and the whole event is owned by Google (jaded angel take a bow). Looking back is fun and amazing, looking forward is scary and uncertain. In any case, I hope I’m still along for the ride.

By the way, I almost didn’t go to that luncheon event because of the pouring rain, but Dana Todd leant me her umbrella and told me that she couldn’t believe there was anyone in search marketing who wasn’t adventerous. Dana, it was the newbie angel who almost made me miss that amazing event, I swear!!

Entry Filed under: E-Marketing Advice

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