You Are Browsing The SEM Category

Display Advertising and SEO

March 25 2010 // Advertising + Marketing + SEM + SEO // Comment

A new study by .Fox Networks and comScore shows (again) the positive relationship between display advertising and search.

Video and display advertising both successfully increased brand engagement in each of the four campaigns analysed. The average uplift across the campaigns saw site visitation increase by more than a factor of seven over a four week period following exposure to an ad, with consumers three times more likely to conduct search queries using brand or relevant generic terms in the same time period.

display advertising and seo

Advertising Attribution

These studies all point to a synergy between advertising channels. That’s not ground-breaking, though the measurement of it is innovative. What marketers have been trying to figure out is attribution. What channel or channels should get credit for a sale or lead? It goes to the heart of the old marketing adage: I know I’m wasting half of my marketing budget, I just don’t know which half.

Impact on Display

Many advertisers and agencies still measure success of a display campaign based on traditional click through rate (CTR) and ROI. The low CTR of display ads makes marketers suspicious. The concept of a view-through conversion made sense to some, but it still seemed like a bunch of hand waving and didn’t solve the problem of attribution. New services like Vizu also go beyond clicks and provide measurable brand lift based on display campaigns.

Studies and tools that provide multi-channel insight into conversion will help advertisers move beyond antiquated success metrics and increase their display advertising budgets.

Impact on Search

Convincing advertisers of the relationship between display and search is only half the battle. How will advertisers respond? The obvious knee-jerk reaction is to increase their display advertising spend. But is that really where advertisers should start?

If display generates more search volume, wouldn’t you first ensure search was optimized to convert that additional volume? Even within search, would you allocate more dollars into PPC or SEO? Would you prefer to pay for that customer twice or once?

Display and SEO

I’d argue that the first action item based on this study would be to invest in SEO. We already know that the vast majority of search clicks come from organic listings. The importance of rank cannot be denied, even with recent studies showing interesting behavior around brands.

Display primes the pump and generates intent. But you could be generating that intent for your competitor if you haven’t done enough SEO. Branded terms are likely safe, but the ‘relevant generic terms’ are a battlefield.

For example, if Best Buy ran a display campaign for HDTVs, this would create additional search volume for branded searches (Best Buy) and relevant generic searches (HDTVs). A brand search works out just fine. But a search for hdtvs returns Walmart as the first retailer result. Best Buy could wind up spending advertising dollars to drive sales for Walmart.

My fear is that instead of investing in SEO advertisers will simply throw money at the problem through PPC. Never mind that you’ll still only capture a small segment of that additional search volume, it’s also eating into your overall ROI.

Do AdWords Conversion Rates Vary by Position?

August 25 2009 // Advertising + Rant + SEM // 2 Comments

Last week the Google AdWords blog posted some ‘research’ conducted by Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google, that stated that “conversion rates don’t vary much by position.”

Google Conversion Rate by Position Research

Do AdWords Conversion Rates Vary by Position?

My personal experience is that AdWords conversion rates DO vary by position. That’s not to say that I can’t be convinced otherwise, but I’ll need a lot more evidence then was provided in the blog post.

As a fundraiser many moons ago, my first instinct was to say that there would always be an inverse relationship between dollar amount and conversion rate. The lower the pledge amount, the higher the conversion rate.

Yet, I found that there wasn’t a tremendous difference between some giving levels. Conversion rates on $25 pledges weren’t substantially different from $100 pledges. However, that variance increased as you climbed up the solicitation ladder. Conversion rates for $500 pledges did vary materially from $25 pledges.

So, I’m not unwilling to be persuaded by real research and statistics that might contradict my anecdotal evidence. The problem is that the post didn’t link to the research to help validate the methodology or assumptions that led to this conclusion. Only a few variables are discussed, leaving a number of others open to interpretation or debate. It doesn’t help that one of the three links in the post goes to a 404 page.

How Did They Define Conversion?

That broken link … it was to the definition of conversion rate. Oddly, this is an important point. How did they define a conversion? Were only those conversions configured in AdWords included? Or did they pull from Analytics Goals as well? Essentially, we have no idea as to the universe of those who were included in this research, nor is there any mention as to what type of bias this might introduce.

Does the Type of Search Impact Conversion Rates?

Second, what type of searches were included? Given the differences in transactional versus informational queries one would believe that there might be a difference in conversion rates by position as well. An ad advertising a product (eCommerce or transactional) may exhibit different behavior as those advertising content (content or informational).

Does Query Length Impact Conversion Rates?

Blognation points out that an analysis of conversion by “token length” would be important.

Here’s a different way to think about the Google conversion rate data that I think would probably have a much different outcome. Do a conversion rate analysis by “token length”, which is search engine language for the number of words in a search query. If someone types in “baseball” for example, what’s the conversion rate differential between position #1 and position #10, versus a query for “buy Louisville slugger size 28 wooden baseball bat.”

I suspect that the conversion rate for the first query is going to be very low for the first position, simply because you are going to have a lot of browsers who simply click on the first ad that they see. Any browser who eventually makes it down to position #10′s result may very well have turned into an actual shopper after clicking on all the other ads. Conversely, if you already know the exact product you want – and your search query indicates that intent – you are much more likely to convert on the first ad you see that actually offers the specific product you want.

Related to this would be the conversion rate by position by match type. With so many advertisers unknowingly bidding solely on broad match, this type of analysis seems necessary and … useful!

Does CPC and Ad Category Impact Conversion Rates?

Finally, was this analysis performed to determine whether conversion rates by position remained constant depending on the average cost of the keyword? Could it not be true that different behavior could exist for a keyword with a $10 per click cost versus 10 cents?

Might different categories produce different conversion rates by position? Would the conversion rates for books, movies and music differ from long term care insurance? Could the number of competitors or volatility of a keyword impact the conversion rate by position?

Why Present AdWords Conversion Rate Research?

The presentation of this research without … the actual research makes me suspicious. What message is the AdWords team sending to advertisers? It seems to me that they’re encouraging advertisers to bid for the extra traffic received from higher ad positions. That advertisers can do so without negatively impacting their conversion rate and subsequent ROI.

Never mind that the higher CPC to achieve that extra traffic would reduce your margin. And that’s IF your conversion rate does remain the same. Should it not, you’ll pay a premium to obtain traffic that converts at a lower rate. So, who is this research advice really supposed to benefit?

Given the lack of supported evidence I can only rely on the experiences that I and my colleagues have had over numerous years. Experiential learning tells me to beware of monkey clicks, which do cause the top positions to have lower conversion rates.

I’m still willing to be convinced, but until something material is presented, this seems akin to evidence of the Loch Ness Monster. The cynic in me sees it as marketing copy meant to drive more advertiser dollars. I’d love for Google to prove me wrong.

Will Yahoo Paid Inclusion Survive Microsoft Deal?

July 29 2009 // SEM + SEO // 2 Comments

Bingoo!

This morning Microsoft announced a 10 year search partnership with Yahoo!

In simple terms, Microsoft will now power Yahoo! search while Yahoo! will become the exclusive worldwide relationship sales force for both companies’ premium search advertisers.

But it’s not all simple and straight-forward. If Bing now powers Yahoo! search, what happens to Yahoo! Paid Inclusion?

What is Paid Inclusion?

Yahoo! Paid Inclusion is a pay-per-click product that allows an advertiser to pay for a listing in the search index. That’s right, you can pay to look like an ‘organic’ listing. Paid Inclusion is the dirty little secret that nobody at Yahoo! talks about and is only whispered about among advertisers.

Will Yahoo! Paid Inclusion Survive?

At first glance it might seem that Paid Inclusion will go the way of the dodo bird. Or will it? The second key term provides an opening.

Microsoft will acquire an exclusive 10 year license to Yahoo!’s core search technologies, and Microsoft will have the ability to integrate Yahoo! search technologies into its existing web search platforms;

While this statement is clearly about the Yahoo! search algorithm and (perhaps) ancillary products like SearchMonkey, it could also apply to Paid Inclusion.

The reach of Yahoo’s Paid Inclusion product has never been clear and, therefore, the actual revenue Paid Inclusion generates is also a bit of a mystery. Is Paid Inclusion revenue big enough to preserve through this partnership or not?

Paid Inclusion and SEO

Paid Inclusion already obscures Yahoo! SEO. If Paid Inclusion goes away, many advertisers who were getting traffic ahead of natural listings will suddenly be at the mercy of natural SERP and SEO. There could be a substantial traffic impact for these advertisers who have come to rely on a certain amount of traffic at a predictable ROI.

Should Paid Inclusion not survive the partnership, SEO – Bing SEO specifically – will become more important. If Paid Inclusion does survive, does it do so just on Yahoo! properties or would it be integrated into Bing results as well? If it is the latter, Paid Inclusion becomes much bigger.

In the final analysis, I don’t think Paid Inclusion revenue is large enough, can’t see Bing integrating Paid Inclusion and similarly can’t see Microsoft wanting to explain why searches on Yahoo! and Bing are materially different.

For these reasons I’m guessing that Paid Inclusion will be terminated.

UPDATE (July 30, 2009)

Danny Sullivan was able to land a question during the Yahoo! press conference.

I asked what happens to other things search like at Yahoo? What powered Yahoo News? What happens to the Yahoo Directory? Is Delicious search? And what happens to Yahoo paid inclusion?

Bartz: We have full flexibility on what to do within our own sites. Paid inclusion, we’ll decide on that later.

So Paid Inclusion still has a chance of surviving but it seems like it’s on life support.

Bling Search Engine

June 04 2009 // Humor + SEM + SEO // 1 Comment

Bling Search Engine

Since the launch of Microsoft’s Bing I’ve received traffic from ‘bling’ keywords: bling search engine, bling paid search, bling search real time.

Search is funny that way. A small misspelling by the user is matched to a variant of my blog name. The one letter difference between blind and bling seems big to a person but doesn’t amount to much for a search engine. It’s yet another example of my blind five year old theory on search engines.

Bling Search Engine

I don’t know, maybe they should have named it Bling.

Bling is catchy and has an established vernacular. They could have used all sorts of celebrity endorsements about needing to find their bling. I can see the tag line.

“Search for your Bling!”

Google Suggests Ads

May 22 2009 // SEM // 1 Comment

This week Google made changes to Google Suggest (that drop down menu that provides the most likely completion for what you’ve typed) to include ads.

Similar to the navigational suggestions above, sometimes we detect that the most relevant completion for what you’re typing is an ad. When an ad is shown, we mark it with the text “Sponsored Link” and a colored background, as on the results page.

Google Suggests Ads

This isn’t surprising but it is another indication that Google is actively seeking to increase paid search clicks through other products. Yahoo! put ads in news alerts and Google already inserted ads into Feedburner (FeedSense) and likely will into Google Friend Connect (FriendSense).

Will there be any type of reporting for this placement and, if effective, could it actually garner a premium rate? Time will tell.

However, expect to see more of these ad integrations as Google looks to increase revenue and growth in paid search.

5 Reasons Why Paid Search Is Down

May 18 2009 // SEM + SEO // 5 Comments

The latest from Hitwise and Comscore show that the growth in paid search is slowing.

In the four weeks to May 9, 2009, 7.25% of search engine traffic to All Categories of websites was from paid clicks. This compares to 9.84% in the same four week period in 2008 – representing a 26% decline in the share of paid clicks.

Paid Clicks Declining

According to Comscore query volume grew 68% in the last two years while paid clicks grew only 18%. Now, lets be clear, paid clicks aren’t going down, they’re just not growing as fast.

There are a lot of theories about why paid search is sputtering. Here’s my analysis of five reasons behind the slow down.

Advertiser Decline

One theory is that the economy has forced many advertisers to abandon paid search. This is a compelling theory given the number of bankruptcies and marketing budget cuts.

Yet, nearly every survey (here, here and here) is showing that the economy has pushed more dollars online. And those online dollars were going to search – a medium giving advertisers far more control and, more importantly, providing a clear return on investment through analytics.

Search has become a near necessity these days and as the leader in search Google’s AdWords is a default part of many a marketing mix. Yet, the Google Tax has been going up.

The Google Tax? Anyone who has been advertising for more than three years can remember ten cent CPCs. CPC inflation was and still is a considerable problem. Yet we were all like frogs in a pot. The heat was turned up so slowly we didn’t really notice … until now.

Budget cutting forced companies to audit campaigns and what they found might have surprised them. The water was scalding hot!

Verdict: Probable.

Words per Query Up

The number of words per query are up and continue to rise. Many surmise that the increase in query length is directly related to less advertising coverage and fewer paid clicks. This theory presupposes that most advertisers are running sophisticated campaigns on exact match and are heavily using negative keywords.

My experience is that sophisticated campaigns are still infrequent. Most have broad match and phrase match full bore. But, for the moment, lets say this is the case for larger advertisers. That leaves all of the other advertisers who are presented with an AdWords interface that encourages broad match.

Though there is some data that shows coverage is down, I’m unsure it is related to the number of words per query. The number of broad match and phrase match advertisers simply seems too great for query length – particularly of such a small magnitude – to have had an appreciable impact.

Comscore Words Per Search

The graph is striking because of the scale. But it still amounts to a mere single digit percentage increase in words per query over two years.

Verdict: Unlikely.

Quality Score Suppression

Google has been using their Quality Score to ensure that relevant ads are presented for user queries. If Google determines your ad and landing page aren’t relevant you’ll be forced to pay more for the ad to be displayed.

The Quality Score isn’t always a reflection of reality. It is heavily influenced by the CPC your ad receives and overall account performance. Poor keyword research, account structure, copy writing and negative keywords could lead advertisers to pay more even though they have quality content.

Google’s implementation of Quality Score has weeded out poorly targeted ads. It has also increased the CPC for all advertisers. In this way, Quality Score may be contributing to the decline not through suppression but through making the Google Tax cost prohibitive.

Verdict: Possibly.

Better SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has improved. More and more sites have invested in SEO and have come to see it as a legitimate marketing strategy. ‘Why pay for it when you can get it for free?’ And that goes double when the economy hits the skids.

Search engines have also gotten better at SEO through algorithm tweaks and results presentation changes. From Yahoo’s SearchMonkey to Google’s Universal Search (local, video etc.), organic search results have become much more compelling.

What about Google’s Vince Change? The change to Google’s trust and authority algorithm resulted in top brands floating to the top of more search engine results. Could users be finding brands more often in organic search instead of clicking on branded ads?

Improving organic search has always been an odd balancing act for Google. Better search results improve retention and return rates. That means more ad impressions which should logically mean more paid clicks. But could organic search become too good and suppress paid clicks?

Verdict: Likely.

Mix-Shift of Queries

My own theory revolves around the mix of queries. What are people searching for and has that changed over time?

Look at the words per query graph again. What about those drops in December? Could commerce based queries be less diverse? We’ve already seen differences in transactional (left) versus informational (right) searches.

Transactional versus Information Query Eye tracking

In tough economic times could the shift in searches be away from transactional or product searches? Instead, are people searching for information or (low cost) entertainment online? Those areas may have less advertising coverage than traditional product queries.

As CPM rates have declined and CPCs have increased the ability for content based sites to participate in paid search may have dwindled. The economics just don’t work out nearly as often as they used to.

Is this not also reflected in the Hitwise numbers? Travel, insurance and retail are getting fewer paid clicks. Travel in particular seems transparent. In a recession fewer people are taking vacations leading to fewer paid clicks. In addition, travel agencies may pull back on paid search as a result of decreased demand.

And what about search refinements. Earlier this year I wrote about a Yahoo! study on how users were refining their queries.

Could users be refining their queries more frequently with a greater understanding that refinement will lead to better results? If so, I’d hazard that refined queries likely have a lesser chance of garnering a paid click.  These users are highly focused on the organic results to determine if their refinement was successful. This dovetails nicely with the informational search eye tracking study above.

Verdict: Probable.

Hodge Podge

Hodge Podge

In the end I’d bet it’s a little bit of everything mentioned with a dash of the unknown thrown in for good measure.

How, why and what people search coupled with the failing economy and an online advertising model in flux is going to have an impact on paid search.

Search, as a business, is still rather young. We’re all trying to learn what makes it tick and how it’s going to grow in the future.

This is what draws me to online marketing and search specifically. The answers aren’t black and white and the territory is uncharted.

And with that, what are your thoughts? What do you think of my analysis? Why do you think paid search growth is declining?

PPC Display URL Initial Capitalization

April 13 2009 // SEM // Comment

Little changes can sometimes have a big impact. Nowhere is this more evident than in the display URL for pay per click (PPC) ads. Remember, the display URL comprises between a quarter or third of the entire ad unit!

Display URL

A recent SEOmoz post by User Centric confirmed the importance of the display URL through an eye tracking study.

PPC Ad Eye Tracking Results

In ads above the organic results the display URL carries a tremendous weight. While it carries the least for ads on the right, the impact of the display URL shouldn’t be ignored. Read on to find out why.

Subdomains and Subfolders

The same User Centric post goes on to detail tests of subdomains (subdomain.example.com) and subfolders (www.example.com/subfolder) on clickthrough rate (CTR). Their results mirror my own real world experiences. Subdomains and subfolders provide little value to PPC ads and often suppress CTR.

Why? Users are scanning the page and having a URL packed with information may simply overwhelm the eye. Simplicity remains paramount and more is not always better.

Initial Capitalization

What User Centric didn’t test, or perhaps took for granted, was the use of initial capitalization within the display URL.

Display URL Initial Capitalization

The above ads are exactly the same except for the display URL. I guarantee that your eye came to rest on the one on the right. The ad on the right uses initial capitalization and will consistently outperform other ad.

Time after time I’ve conducted this test. Initial capitalization produces a lift of between 10% and a whopping 50%. Why? The eye naturally gravitates toward capitalization. It’s how we parse sentences. For the more technically inclined, they almost serve as delimiters.

In general, initial capitalization works best with two word domains, but I’ve seen positive results for one word and multi-word domains as well. So don’t forget to make initial capitalization part of your testing plan.

Is Yahoo the Firefox of Search?

April 01 2009 // SEM + Technology // 2 Comments

Lately, you can’t go a day without Yahoo talking about their new open initiatives. Whether it’s Yahoo BOSS (Build your Own Search Service), Yahoo Pipes or Yahoo SearchMonkey, it’s all about openness and collaboration.

Yahoo SearchMonkey

Yahoo SearchMonkey is the most interesting initiative for search. During SMX West every Yahoo presenter seemed to have a SearchMonkey slide in their deck. I can understand why.

Using SearchMonkey, developers and site owners can use structured data to make Yahoo! Search results more useful and visually appealing, and drive more relevant traffic to their sites.

SearchMonkey turns dreary search results into something more interesting.

SearchMonkey Example

There are only a handful of default SearchMonkey apps currently running on Yahoo and the number of user apps is still a middling 100 or so. Yet, the idea seems right.

SearchMonkey is add-ons for search

That’s right. SearchMonkey apps are the equivalent of Firefox add-ons.

Add-ons extend Firefox, letting you personalize your browsing experience. Take a look around and make Firefox your own.

Yahoo isn’t going to win on their search algorithm. While the result sets are subjective, Google is the perceived leader and perception is reality. In addition, Google is far more focused on perfecting search and iterating the algorithm.

That’s why SearchMonkey is a smart move. Taking a page from Firefox and WordPress, Yahoo is hoping that developers will make their results more appealing and usable through easy customization.

Firehoo

Firehoo Logo

That’s not where the similarities stop. Yahoo has a similar position in search as Firefox does in browsers. They’re both up against large market share giants, Google and Internet Explorer respectively. Hence, they both fight against user inertia.

There are differences. Yahoo had the market share lead and let it slip from their grasp and many (myself included) would argue that Firefox is a better product (add-ons or not) then Internet Explorer.

Could Yahoo become the Firefox of search?

Maybe, but only if they focus and promote SearchMonkey apps to sites, developers and, most importantly, to users. Unfortunately Yahoo isn’t doing this and remains distracted and unfocused.

It would make search far more interesting if Yahoo got serious about SearchMonkey and fully implementing a customized search strategy to woo users back to Yahoo.

The Future of Search is Numbered

February 23 2009 // SEM + SEO // 2 Comments

The future of search is numbered. No, it’s not what you think. I’m not predicting the demise of search. Quite the opposite.

Instead I’m talking about two trends that could have interesting implications on how both SEO and PPC campaigns are constructed.

The number of words per query is going up

Bill Tancer, General Manager of Global Research at Hitwise, shared the following statistics during a SMX West presentation.

Number of Words per Query Going Up

The trend is clear. People are using more words in their search queries. The reasons behind the increase in words is debatable. Is it an increased comfort and savvy with search or frustration with the search results? Either way, long tail searches are on the rise and will likely trend this way for some time.

People are using numbers to reformulate queries

In a post titled Study on the Structure of Search Queries, Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea discusses a Yahoo! research paper titled The Linguistic Structure of English Web-Search Queries (pdf). One of the findings was that people were using numbers to modify their searches.

The type of word most likely to be reformulated is “number.” Examples included changing a year (”most popular baby names 2007″ ! “most popular baby names 2008″), while others included model, version and edition numbers (”harry potter 6″ ! “harry potter 7″) most likely indicating that the user is looking at variants on a theme, or correcting their search need.

The data set for this research is from 2006. Yet, combined with the increase in words per query I’d theorize that numbers remain a powerful way to search today.

I’m the first person to warn against using yourself as an example but … I’m going to break that rule right now.

I often find myself using numbers, particularly years, when searching. If I’m doing research on a volatile topic (like SEO) I might come across ancient results from 2004. These are rarely helpful.

So I’ll begin to iterate and modify my query with years to find more relevant results. I had to do something similar when trying to cobble together Google’s share of search from October 2004 to October 2008.

Speaking of Google …

Google displays the date as a meta description prefix

Sometime last year Google began to insert a date prefix before the meta description in search results. They did this for pages in which Googlebot found a date – mostly blog posts.

meta description date prefix

I certainly noticed since some of my well crafted 150 character meta descriptions were suddenly being cut off because of the inserted date.

Why exactly would Google do this? They’ve certainly made it clear they like “fresh” content but they could present fresh content without the date. I can only surmise that Google believes users are looking for and will benefit from seeing the date.

Oddly, the date prefix does not seem to be searchable. When I search for ‘Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs 2007′ the same result is displayed but the visual treatment changes.

date search result without meta descripition date prefix

Once again Google tromps all over my well crafted meta description, but without the meta description date prefix. This seems to prove that the meta description date prefix isn’t searchable. But perhaps it should be.

Are you including numbers in your SEO and PPC strategies?

We know that users are using more words per query and that they’re fond of reformulating queries using numbers. This should be enough evidence to implement a robust modifier strategy, if you haven’t already.

Those who already have long tail programs should think about increasing the use of numbers as valid modifiers. As an example, wouldn’t review sites benefit from bidding on terms like ‘digital camera reviews 2009′ or ‘trek bicycle ratings 2008′?

Search (whether paid or organic) is about matching your content (or ad) to the user queries. Don’t let your programs become dated.

9 Reasons You Should Have Been at SMX West

February 14 2009 // SEM + SEO // 1 Comment

SMX West 2009

I’m not the biggest fan of conferences. The information is often stale, vendors seem to outnumber attendees, and the speakers are cordoned off making it more like attending a guided tour at a very boring zoo.

But SMX West was different and absolutely worthwhile. Here’s why.

Big Brains

There were a lot of smart people at SMX West. Savvy search engine marketers and an accessible bunch of representatives from the major search engines. Getting to hear Vint Cerf speak was also a treat. However, upon exiting I heard someone on a cell phone talking about Cerf’s keynote. “Yeah, some guy from Google, he was pretty good.” Like I said, a lot of smart people, not all.

Big Ideas

Danny Sullivan kicked it off by asking Google to essentially blow up the black box surrounding AdWords and AdSense. Imagine going back to a transparent Overture like bidding system. Or knowing exactly what the revenue share was on AdSense.

Vint Cerf shocked everyone when he spoke about an interplanetary network which would be operational this year. But it was the idea of ‘bit rot’ that I found most interesting. How do we ensure that information from today can be read in the far future? Hey, I have some old MacPaint files still hanging around!

Finally, Matt Cutts announced a new ‘canonical’ link tag that serves as a sort of mini-301 redirect aimed at reducing the amount of duplicate content. Even better, the three major search engines have all agreed to use the new ‘canonical’ link tag.

Cloak and Dagger

Search engine representatives versus search engine marketers, some of which have used less than white hat techniques to gain traffic and rank. Panelists often seemed to be addressing Matt Cutts directly as they spoke about their techniques, looking at him for any response or reaction. This dance was, in itself, interesting to watch but it was the session about Google’s SearchWiki and Personalized Search that really seemed like something out of a Jason Bourne movie. You could learn a lot if you read between the lines.

Camaraderie

The amount of good will in the search industry is extremely high. I witnessed Michael Gray and Rae Hoffman giving constructive feedback to Corey Anderson and Bryan Horling who presented at the SearchWiki session. And those with power strips were generous and helped many to keep the juice flowing. Everyone seems to realize that this is a small ecosystem in which both sides must flourish.

Star Gazing

There were some high profile folks at SMX West. I’m not one to be bowled over by notoriety, titles or fame (hey, people are people), but it is interesting to see some of the more well known folks close up. You can’t help but smile at Rae Hoffman’s exuberance, be swayed by Rand Fishkin’s giddy passion or meet a nicer guy than Matt Cutts.

samantha fox

Answers

You get what might be the final word on topics like dashes versus underscores or relative versus absolute. And not just a whisper-down-the-lane opinion but right from the mouth of Maile Oyhe or from the seemingly tireless Vanessa Fox, who oddly and continually triggers the distracting image of Samantha Fox in my mind.

Numbers

Data jockeys galore roam the conference rooms and hallways. Numbers and statistics are often central to the presentations. Leverage the combined research power of the panelists to deliver meaningful up-to-date statistics such as the percentage of traffic that comes from being on page one or the click distribution between organic and paid on SERPs.

Access

Not the often frustrating Microsoft Office product but instead the unparalleled ability to speak with colleagues and search engine product managers and engineers. Nearly all panelists were willing to talk with folks and answer questions after their presentations, often long after they should have told people to go jump in a lake.

Now, I’m not a super social extrovert so I wasn’t chatting people up or doing the evening party circuit. But I certainly could have and might have if it hadn’t been for the nightly hour long drive home to the East Bay.

Humor and Rumor

Have you ever noticed how those two words differ by only one letter? There was quite a bit of laughter at SMX West. Danny Sullivan was consistently funny throughout. Rae and Debra Mastaler traded analogies on link building and sex.

Todd Friesen (aka oilman) was the target of a Twitter prank. And Nathan Buggia, from Microsoft, hit on both humor and rumor as he spat out one-liners sitting behind a MacBook Pro during the site review session.

For all of these reasons and more, SMX West 2009 was a great success. Make sure you’re there next year.