Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

First published August 3, 2006 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

At the end of this week, thousands of search marketers will begin their pilgrimage to the west, to the mecca of search that is San Jose. It’s time for what has emerged as the premier search gathering, the West Coast version of Search Engine Strategies.

This show always marks a bit of an annual milestone for me. It was two years ago that I became a regular columnist for “Search Insider,” and I also try to shoehorn the sessions I present into our annual family camping vacation, precariously balancing on the cusp of the many professional and social demands that surround SES San Jose and keeping a wife and two daughters from throwing my laptop down the nearest camp toilet. I usually drive in from the campground in Santa Cruz, sunburned, smelling of wood smoke and carrying my “good” clothes, borrow a hotel room and shower from one of my colleagues who chose to forego the “back the nature” route in favor of room service, and try to make myself presentable. For the most part, this tactic has been successful for me.

I’ll be thinking of you

This is the first time in five years that I’m actually missing the show. This year, the family prevails and I’ll be vacationing with them through France and Italy (sans camping, avec hotels). My work tasks have been restricted to writing this column (next week, the Continental European version!) and making the odd, long, overdue blog post. But as SES ramp-up week gets into full swing, I’m getting more than the occasional twinge of regret as I turn down invite after invite. This year promises to be a packed show. Oh well, I hear sipping wine in the south of France can ease those twinges.

I’ll actually be there in spirit, if not in the flesh. I helped Danny Sullivan put together the research update panel, which kicks off the show Monday morning. This session has emerged to become one of the most popular, and my partner Bill Barnes will be there as well. Greg Sterling is filling in at the moderator’s helm, so you can be assured of some pithy comments. I almost wish I were there.

A search snapshot

This show in particular acts as a microcosm of how far search has come. It takes place in the backyard of the engines, and Yahoo, Google and Microsoft will be there in full force. The legendary Google Dance will give attendees a chance to rub elbows with various ultra-bright engineers in their natural habitat. Yahoo will throw some kind of bash, and there will be at least a dozen other formal networking events of various sizes, (including the SEMPO membership get-together on Monday night) sprinkled throughout the four days of the show. And that’s after the sessions; some 75 of them squeezed into five tracks over four days, covering every imaginable aspect of search. At an average of 4 presentations per panel, that’s 300 different speakers, cramming your head full of valuable information. That’s a lot of search, no matter how you slice it. Pity the poor search newbie who is looking at this as his introduction to the channel.

No show gets deeper or more intimately into search. Danny Sullivan, Chris Sherman, Karen Deweese and a virtual legion of presenters who all put their unique spin on the show, have made this the must-see event and turned SES into a tremendously successful franchise. The West Coast show is book-ended by a no less successful East Coast version in New York, and it has been repeated at locations around the world. It’s a long way for Danny, an ex-journalist who thought he might do an impromptu study on these things called search engines, a minor but rather interesting development in the online world, circa 1996. Searchenginewatch.com was born (I’m sure I was one of the earliest subscribers) and the rest is history.

You’ve come a long way

Danny must shake his head in wonder sometimes. Nobody has been a more consistent observer of the search world, and he’s been privileged to have extraordinary access to the key industry players. He’s sat in the front row as the industry struggled, emerged and launched into hyper-growth.

Danny Sullivan is still the first person analysts and journalists turn to for insight and commentary. During the show, he flies at a frenetic pace, fueled by Coke and donuts. Meanwhile, the implacable Chris Sherman acts as ying to Sullivan’s yang, ably stewarding the international shows (a note of irony that Danny, who lives in England, coordinates the North American shows, while Chris, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, does the international shows). And somehow, they manage to pull it all together for each show, seeing each eclipse last year’s attendance numbers. I attended my first SES in Boston in 2000. I started presenting almost three years ago now. It’s been tremendously exciting to see them continue to grow bigger and better with each iteration.

Well done, Chris and Danny. Again, I almost wish I could be there to tell you in person. But by the time you read this, I’ll be somewhere in the south of France, and that has its own consolations. But I’m sure our paths will cross before long. Chicago, perhaps?

 

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