SES Chicago ’06

Ah, the Windy City. The City of the Big Shoulders. Hog Butcher for the World. That Toddlin’ Town. I don’t know quite what that last one means (what’s “toddlin”? How, exactly, does one “toddle”?), but there’s certainly something magical about Chicago, especially around the holidays. And with this being my first trade show as a freshly minted Client Services Representative, the magic followed me inside to Search Engine Strategies Chicago 2006.

The opportunity to rub elbows with search luminaries, the celebrities of our rarified world, set the mind awhirl: Danny Sullivan, in his swan song appearance, his final SES; Jason “I’m from Brooklyn” Calacanis, vagabond entrepreneur, and his poorly informed and ill-received keynote slag against SEO; whip-smart free agent Sara Houlebeck; the venerable Bruce Clay; intrepid journalist Jim Hedger and his explosive (and, bewilderingly, yet to explode) reportage regarding Google, click fraud, and Al Qaeda; Vanessa Fox, Neil Patel, Adam Lasnik, Amanda Watlington, Rand Fishkin, Andy Hagans, Lee Odden. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a prominent blogger, a forward-thinker, an incandescent online marketing intellect.

As SES exhibitors, what predictions had we made about the conference? Well, number one, that nearly everyone would be asking us about SMO (Social Media Optimization). Nobody did. I, personally, like the opportunities presented by SMO; I’m attracted to the communities’ absolute insistence on authenticity, their abhorrence of spam, the self-policing and lack of sanction toward imposters. A very few people, many of whom are named in the preceding paragraph, are doing it well; like the rest of SEO, it takes hard, ethical work. You can’t do it any other way.

What did people want to know? They wanted to know, in an ever-increasing field of SEO/M firms, all of whom offer more or less the same or similar services, what made us different? Why should they choose Oneupweb instead of the other firm directly across the red carpet? What makes us think we’re better?

Tricky questions. And you know what? We may not be the best match for everyone out there: with SEO in particular, you’re facing a journey rather than a one-stop, a process rather than a project. It’s a relationship, and one of the most important aspects of a successful relationship is the ability to work together, to get through the starry-eyed honeymoon phase and roll up the sleeves. Here’s the deal–with Oneupweb, you get 11 years of experience in Search Engine Optimization. You get direct contact with your project manager, who’s just a phone call away during the duration of the relationship; you get to know this person, and they know you. With SEO, you get our promise that we’ll not stop working to push your positions higher; with SEM (a discipline that lends itself to acronyms), we’ll keep discovering ways to increase your CTR while decreasing your CPA (thus, increasing your ROI).

But, bottom line, doesn’t the lack of a guarantee make hiring us, or any SEO/M firm, a leap of faith? You bet it does. Neither Oneupweb nor any other ethical online marketing firm is going to give you any guarantees. What we can give you is a wealth of experience and a history of great work and success, with case studies and testimonials that confirm our abilities.

The world of search is expanding. SEO is less and less the “shadowy world” that Newsweek alluded to months ago, an imaginary underground world rife with tricksters and con artists, black marketers and snake oil hawkers (funny, though, to see exhbit booths proudly exclaiming “Guaranteed Positions!” immediately after returning from a session wrapped up with iProspect president Rob Murray’s emphatic admonition against SEO guarantees). It’s taken on the veneer of respectability.

With more and more people learning about search, the secret knowledge becoming, if not common, at least less secret, we’re going to see the conception of more firms, and more people who are convinced they can handle SEO in house. A warning: knowing a little about SEO is generally far worse than knowing nothing at all. We see the results of botched campaigns every day. It ain’t pretty.

And, as with all good things, as with all things in general, SES Chicago, for us, came to an end. Bags packed, we endured another 45 minute cab ride to O’Hare, and fell into seats near gate G-17, exhausted, praying to our deity or deities of choice that our flight wouldn’t be cancelled or sent to another gate. Success. We took off, flew, and after a pretty rough landing (the second time I’ve landed in Traverse City where, when finally on the ground, everyone clapped; at least this time nobody was crying or shouting “reroute the flight!”) got our luggage and drove home.

And such was SES. I met some great people, got some decent schwag, gained a deeper understanding of our increasingly mature industry and Oneupweb’s place in it, and possibly talked to some folks with whom we’ll do business. I feel good about SEO/M, and the fact that we and our colleagues will be able to keep pushing the knowledge base forward and finding new ways to ethically help our clients meet their online marketing goals.

Plus, maybe I toddled. At least I’m telling people I did.