Monday, August 21, 2006

Battle of the Internet Trade Shows

Search Engine Strategies (SES) Toronto 2006 went head to head with the much larger AdTech San Francisco on April 25th and 26th earlier this year, and I had a hard time deciding which event I should attend, if either. I finally decided that the smaller venue in Toronto would give me greater access to some of the heavy hitters in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry who I knew personally who were committed to the SES Toronto show. I also thought SES Toronto would give me insight into the still emerging bilingual search engine space in the United States. However, as Internet trade shows go, it is pretty clear that SES now ranks third behind AdTech and WebmasterWorld PubCon as a place to see and be seen by others in the SEO industry. Yahoo! didn't even bother sending a contingent to Toronto, and I ran into at least one person staffing a booth at Toronto who confessed that he worked for a completely different division of the company that he was representing and was simply filling in as a warm body while the more knowledgeable representatives at his company worked the San Francisco show. This made me wonder just how long the Battle of the Internet Trade Shows can continue without SES turning into AdTech roadkill.

I am often asked why I attend trade shows. Indeed, I often ask myself that same question when I contemplate the time, trouble, and expense that is involved in attending a show. However, at some point after I arrive at a show, some serendipitous meeting occurs that puts everything in perspective. To wit, someone working a booth, someone I meet at a party or reception, or (on the rare occasions that I attend a conference presentation) some conference speaker provides me with a key bit of critical data that allows me to stay one step ahead of the competition and/or troubleshoot one of the problems that my clients are having. I also find myself playing the role of matchmaker, putting together the people who need a product or service with the people who provide that service, generating goodwill (and sometimes extra income) in the process. In sum, whenever I attend a trade show, there is always some specific event that occurs that makes me glad I came.

As worthwhile as I find attending trade shows, there comes a point where the time, trouble, and expense that is involved in doing so yields diminishing returns. Back in the day, there was only one high tech trade show: Comdex. However, while I was away at law school, Comdex became a has been and Internet World became the new venue for technology geeks. A few years later, Internet World became a casualty of the dot-com bust, and sometime thereafter SES seemed to rise from the proverbial ashes. However, as I alluded to earlier in this post, SES has become too specialized. To wit, as important as search engine marketing is, it is not as important as some people seem to think it is when it comes to connecting people with the products, services, and information that they need, and I think that the organizers of SES will start finding it harder and harder to attract major vendors like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN to their events.

In his keynote address for SES Toronto, Danny Sullivan brought up the issue of "contextual pollution." To wit, contextual advertising programs like Google Adwords do not fit into the rubric of "traditional" search engine marketing, and neither Google nor Yahoo! provide metrics that break out contextual advertising from "traditional" search engine marketing. He then asserted that all online marketing media will need to start providing accountability through solid metrics and went on to predict that search engine marketing will enter a "third generation" where search becomes more vertical and more personalized. After clarifying what is and isn't search marketing, Sullivan reassured everyone that the current popularity of search engine marketing "is not a bubble," but that most players in the search engine space are now looking "beyond search" when hawking products and services to their customers. This made me think, paraphrasing a famous quote, that when someone says, "This is not a bubble," . . . it's a bubble.

Mark my words: Intellectual purity about what is and isn't search engine marketing will make search engine marketing as we know it obsolete, along with the SES trade shows if the organizers of said shows continue to limit themselves to exploring search engine strategies and only search engine strategies. Search engines are only one component of online information distribution and retrieval, and -- as I stated in a previous blog post -- the big picture goes far beyond search engine marketing. It involves a wide variety of traditional media, emerging technologies, and one or more disruptive information technologies that are flying under most people's radar at the moment, and it involves a wide variety of activities ranging from education to commerce. Even AdTech and PubCon are too commercial for my tastes, but they are still extremely relevant enough to their target audience, so much so that they may eclipse the various non-commercial activities that are usually associated with search engine marketing a la SES.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trade shows can be very worthwhile. There does come a time where your accumulated knowledge far outweighs the potential new knowledge gained at each future trade show.

There is one constant that makes them worthwhile regardless of the learning factor, and that is the partying.

Signed the one whom left the law.
GMI (Global Market Insite, Inc.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006 3:56:00 PM  
Anonymous patrickd said...

Internet Trade Shows Are somehow interesting it depends on who host it and what they present. if there is a pro person then it would be worth it to go to trade shows.

Monday, September 08, 2008 2:42:00 AM  

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