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SearchFest 2014: Highlights and Disappointments

Kerry Guard • March 3, 2014 • 4 minutes to read

I was fortunate to attend SearchFest 2014 in Portland, Oregon on February 28, 2014.

This is the eighth year that SearchFest has been put on in Portland and I've actually been to every single one except for SearchFest 2013. So, I've seen how this event has grown both in attendance as well as the quality of the speakers they bring in.

It was great seeing colleagues and meeting other search marketing professionals... but the draw of a conference are the sessions. And I have to say: there were some informative sessions as well as some stinkers.

SearchFest 2014 Highlights

Standout Sessions

I focused on attending SEO sessions this year, as I thought those were the strongest sessions across all of the tracks for the day.

Structured Data for SEO: Which Markup Matters was one of the standouts of the day. I was already very familiar with Aaron Bradley (@aaranged) as I had seem him speak before and knew that he really knows his stuff about structured data. Marshall Simmonds (@mdsimmonds) really impressed me with his deck and presentation. My main takeaways from his presentation. Type of markup and impact of implementation:

  • Authorship - minimal traffic impact
  • TV Reviews - medium traffic impact
  • Product reviews - Good traffic impact
  • Recipe - minimal traffic impact
  • In-Depth Article - good traffic (if you're not a big brand, good luck)
  • Video - fast indexation, significant impact

I LOVED this approach not only because that's how the session was supposed to be set up... but it gave me a list of actionable items to look to implement immediately.

Harder-Core SEO was another standout session due to the type of information and analysis that Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) brought to the table. His deck wasn't like many of the others that we all saw at SearchFest (more on that later) in that it was fairly lean but focused on specifics, showing pie-chart data that proved that data doesn't have to be shown in a sexy way for it to be communicated well.

Dr. Pete is the Marketing Scientist at Moz, so his presentation had a lot of data behind it. I really liked how he was able to give some timelines as to how often in-depth articles tend to be refreshed when it comes to search engines re-jiggering what shows for that as well as how often based on a percentage of search queries specific schema markup showed in search results.

Link Building, Content Marketing, and Content Strategy was the last standout session I'll go over. John-Henry Schreck (@JHTScherck) did a great job of being the lone presenter of the session. He hit on some great tools that I definitely have already bookmarked and / or downloaded to look to add to my SEO tool-belt. His examples towards the end of his session were also great real-world looks at some companies who were "doing the right thing" and that I could go and see what type of strategy they were currently implementing.

So to recap, the reasons why these three sessions (or, rather, speakers) stood out to me were because their presentations:

  1. Were actionable
  2. Had specific data shown
  3. Included real-world examples

Conference Disappointments

There were some things that disappointed me during SearchFest 2014. Margaret Chase Smith once said:

Every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration. Constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought.

That being said, here were my constructive criticisms of SearchFest 2014 and perhaps some about presenting at conferences in general:

The Hardcore SEO session provided little to no value

This was an "intermediate" session that was supposed to "focus on hardcore SEO tactics." Instead, what I got from Simon was basically "don't do stupid stuff" and search engines unfortunately also do stupid things. From Kate I got some more actionable insights from but still nothing related to the session topic.

Harder-Core SEO was only half-interesting

As I touched on above, Dr. Pete presented some very interesting data that included some good actionable items. Dennis Goedegebuure, head of SEO for Airbnb, basically presented how Airbnb developed neighborhood pages... and that was it. He seemed like a nice, sharp guy who very much knew what he was talking about but I got nothing out of his deck and talk.

Decks that are 100+ slides long

I understand that the thinking here is to try to get away from boring bullet points, but when you're clicking through your slides at lightning speed and the slide that had the most substance that you have is one that includes not one but TWO pieces of stock photography, it's not a good deck. Period.

Condense your deck to only the slides that matter. Keep people interested and hanging on the edge of their seat as to what type of killer information the next slide is going to hold.

SearchFest 2014? Some Good, Some Bad

Will I be attending SearchFest 2015? Definitely. There were some great speakers who spoke about some very interesting topics. Looking forward to next year, I hope the event organizers can really ensure each presenter is presenting on what exactly the session is supposed to be about.

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