Embarking on the intricate journey through the landscape of SEO conferences, my personal experiences have unveiled a tapestry of complexities that redefine the true worth of these industry gatherings. From the persistent recurrence of basic topics by inexperienced SEOs to the challenges of navigating cliques, speakers adopting celebrity personas, and the disconcerting prevalence of sexual harassment—each facet contributes to a nuanced exploration of the strengths and shortcomings of these conferences.
The conventional SEO conference landscape often falls short, emphasizing beginner-level discussions that hold little value for seasoned professionals and questioning the wisdom of investing substantial sums in events that delve into rudimentary subjects. The bombardment of case studies and pitches from agencies and tools further eclipses the essence of these gatherings, with presentations often redundant for SEO experts well-versed in optimization strategies and potential results. As my early experiences attending conferences solo exposed the isolation dilemma, the emergence from this solitude was facilitated by chance encounters and the intervention of influential figures. Special accommodations for speakers inadvertently lead to inflated egos, creating a divisive atmosphere that undermines the collaborative essence of these conferences. The repetition of speakers and topics across different events contributes to a monotonous cycle, failing to captivate attendees and diminishing the allure of these industry gatherings. Addressing the unspoken issue of sexual harassment remains crucial, with improvements noticeable in recent years, but persistent efforts are required to foster an inclusive and respectful professional space. This exploration sheds light on the intricate landscape of SEO conferences, offering a personal perspective on their challenges and opportunities and providing valuable insights for professionals navigating these industry events.
The Downside of Traditional SEO Conferences:
- Very Beginner Topics: One of the primary drawbacks of mainstream SEO conferences is the focus on overly basic topics. Talks often revolve around elementary concepts that seasoned SEO professionals should have mastered, making it a poor investment for those seeking advanced knowledge.
- Case Studies and Pitches: The prevalence of agencies showcasing their success stories and pitching their services can be overwhelming. As experienced SEOs, we don’t need to be sold on agencies’ capabilities; we attend conferences to expand our knowledge, not to be bombarded with sales pitches.
- Cliques and Networking Challenges: SEO conferences can sometimes feel exclusive, with established cliques that make networking difficult for newcomers. Personal experiences at conferences highlighted the importance of having connections to bridge the gap between attendees, fostering a more inclusive environment.
- Speakers Acting Like Celebrities: Certain speakers, often afforded special privileges, can develop inflated egos. This can result in a less-than-ideal experience for other attendees, who are essentially in the same boat, working towards optimizing websites for their respective clients or companies.
- Repetitive Content: Many conferences suffer from a lack of diversity in topics and speakers. Repetitive talks on the same subjects can be uninspiring for attendees who invest time and money expecting fresh perspectives.
- Sexual Harassment: In the past, some SEO conferences tolerated inappropriate behavior, creating an uncomfortable environment, especially for female attendees. While improvements have been made in recent years, there is still work to ensure complete safety and inclusivity.
My approach served as an alternative to traditional methods
I developed my events that corrected all of those things. I had high expectations of my Speakers from asking them to sign a Speaker’s agreement that included requirements to attend the entire event up to the last day and that they engage with the attendees. They were expected to act as ambassadors for the event in a way that helped attendees feel included and important. There were events outside the conference talks that encouraged communication and networking. I encouraged the Speaker to talk about controversial topics or more of a philosophy of where SEO is headed rather than the basic “How to” topics. I went over the speakers’ talks several weeks before the event. Some Speakers received coaching from me or other more seasoned speakers. Basic talks, including pitches, were repeats I had seen at other conferences or didn’t meet the standards of the event and were declined. I hired staff to engage with attendees and encourage them to join the larger group so no one felt alone. My events rose in popularity very quickly, and I received a lot of feedback from attendees that they got a lot out of the topics and the event as a whole.
The success of those events reflected the need for change in the traditional conference model. Attendees appreciated the effort to break away from the norm, providing valuable insights and fostering a sense of community.
Conferences Worth Considering in 2024
Despite my reservations about traditional conferences, notable exceptions stand out in 2024. These events go beyond the conventional and offer unique perspectives and insights:
- Botify Connect: With a focus on adapting SEO strategies to a changing search landscape, Botify Connect provides valuable insights into the future of search and the role of AI.
- State of Search: A digital marketing conference in its 12th year, State of Search covers a broad spectrum of topics, providing real-world strategies for SEO, PPC, and other digital marketing campaigns.
- WTSFest USA: The Women in Tech SEO Fest offers a platform for leading ladies in the industry to share their insights and expertise. It promotes collaboration and knowledge-sharing within the tech SEO community.
While traditional SEO conferences have flaws, the evolving landscape has paved the way for alternatives addressing these issues. SEO professionals should carefully evaluate conferences’ content, networking opportunities, and inclusivity to determine if they align with their goals and expectations. Investing in conferences that break away from the mundane can be worthwhile for career growth and skill development.
Jenn Mathews, known as the SEOGoddess, is an esteemed expert in Enterprise SEO with over 20 years of experience. She has held key positions at organizations like GitHub, Groupon, and Nordstrom, where she has showcased her expertise in technical SEO, strategic development, and championing SEO within large enterprises. Jenn now shares her knowledge through mentoring, writing for Search Engine Journal (SEJ), Search Engine Land (SEL) and speaking engagements.