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Pubcon Recap: Booths, Beginners, and Bashes

SEO digest

Pubcon came and went last week in a red-eyed whirlwind (I can never wake up in Las Vegas without emptying a half bottle of Visine in each eye). I actually didn't attend any sessions except for the two panels I spoke on and the Five Microphones and a Blogger session, but I'll get to that later. First I want to talk about our booth we displayed. Boothin' It Up, Gangsta Style

Our booth and main demo screen

The Pubcon expo hall seemed much smaller than last year. I'm not sure if it's due to current economical woes, but for whatever reason there seemed to be fewer exhibitors than in 2007. Nonetheless, Pubcon marked the 4th booth we've had at a conference and the 3rd one I've worked at (I wasn't at SMX East in New York a month or so ago), and while we're still booth noobs, I must admit that I think our Pubcon booth was the best one yet. I had previously written about our first booth that we had at SMX West last winter, and I think the main problem with our first booth is that we didn't really have a single focus--we primarily talked about our various tools and casually pimped our SEO Analytics in a half-ass way. We had no flyers and no "game plan" or definitive structure. That's not to say that the first booth wasn't great--it provided a solid learning experience and put us in contact with a ton of new folks and helped get the word out about SEOmoz PRO. Well, after a few trial and errors I think we've hit an all-time high this time around. We came to Las Vegas prepared, not just armed with Visine and aspirin for those late night drinking bouts, but with a solid setup of multiple demo stations, a primary focus, a specialized team, and flyers. Oh, and we didn't forget to bring the t-shirts either.

For our booth this time we had a triangle set up of 3 demos stations, one on either side of our booth and a center demo area that was hooked up to a big TV screen; that way, we could run 3 demos at the same time and also display one demo large enough for curious passerbys to see. We also primarily demo'd our newest tool, Linkscape, thus maintaining a solid focus and reducing information overload. That's not to say we only focused on Linkscape--we were happy to demo other tools and talk about other aspects of PRO; in fact, I even gave a demo of every single tool that SEOmoz has built at the request of an especially curious conference attendee. After 30 minutes of non-stop talking, clicking, and an increasingly scratchy throat, the guy seemed satisfied...or maybe he felt sorry for me and let me off the hook. :P

As for our booth staff, well, we were sure to bring a solid team that were confident to talk about every and any possible aspect of Linkscape: Ben, one of Linkscape's core developers, and Danny, our program coordinator who organized a lot of aspects of Linkscape. These two fools lived and breathed this tool for the past several months, so why not shove them in front of the hungry masses and force them to answer questions?

Judging from the puzzled look on this guy's face, methinks Ben discovered some porn links...

Danny shrugging and saying, "Look dude, you gotta stop linking to that dancing baby. Get with the times!"

They both did a fantastic job answering questions about Linkscape and patiently going through hundreds of demos. Even when the Internet would fritz out (and it often did) or if the tool got buggy, the Dynamic Duo plodded on and helped out. Great job, guys!

As for Rand? Well, see if you can spot him:

Rand sitting in time out

Yep, even Rand was giving demos when he wasn't busy running back and forth from various speaking gigs. Gillian was out and about as well, not only working diligently at our booth, but moderating sessions and organizing our Werewolf/Search Spam party (which was "affectionately" dubbed "Nerdfest" by a number of Pubcon attendees who enjoy busting SEOmoz's chops...thanks guys). We really put in a solid team effort at this conference, and it made me both excited and proud to work with everyone that week.

Overall, I think the booth was the best yet. We had multiple demo stations, flyers (though I think they still need to be improved upon, but at least we had them this time!), t-shirts, and were even able to sign some folks up on the spot. We had people coming to our booth long after the t-shirts were gone, so hopefully that's a positive indication that we're doing something right. :)

My favorite part of working at the booth wasn't just talking to attendees about Linkscape and our various tools and encouraging people to sign up for PRO, it was actually meeting and talking to existing PRO members. For example, Reid Greenberg from Davis Frame (they offer "authentic custom timber frame homes") and I talked about the PRO tools and I was able to pick his brain a little about which tools he's using more than others and why. It proved to be a great opportunity to learn more about our members and identify areas of improvement within our PRO suite. Reid was also nice enough to volunteer his site for review at the link building clinic I participated on with Rae Hoffman and Roger Montti. Thanks for being a good sport, Reid!

Other awesome folks I met:

  • Kristen Weiss, an SEM strategist from Zeta Interactive who was sporting a lovely cast after having broken her hand during an ATV race. Her story behind the break was pretty bad-ass--anyone who breaks their ribs and hand before a race and still competes is pretty tough in my book. :)
  • Mandy Ison from Intuit, who I had the chance to bond with over our shared half-Korean-ness. (Like many Asian Americans, she looks more Asian than I do. Damn my German/Irish half!) 
  • Kiowa Jackson, an SEO/SMO manager for Rank Lab Interactive. I had recognized Kiowa from the last few conference I attended and even jokingly scolded him for walking out on a panel I had spoken on a few conferences ago. He laughed and facetiously said he had a "cat emergency," though I imagine folks like Matt Cutts have used that as a legit excuse...
  • Philippe Moreau, co-director of Qc Media in Quebec, Canada. Philippe is currently juggling school and work, and I think Danny and I can relate to what he's going through. Hopefully he can hammer through and finish up before the consulting gets too burdensome!
  • Eric Sprague, the co-founder of, a poker strategy guide and online community. Too bad I didn't know him last year when I participated in David Klein's poker tournament and busted out in 19th...
  • Mohamed Bakr, CEO of Mvix. He's based in Lynnwood, WA, which is just a short jaunt north of where the Mozplex is.
  • Travis Smith from, the "authority for soccer gear and training." I think he may have semi-drunkenly promised me a pair of shoes, but Search Bash is a bit hazy for me too...(psst, I'm a size 8, Travis!)
  • The guys who work at Blinc Inc. makeup products, who stopped by the booth to test out Linkscape and shared some of their current website woes with me. They even hooked me up with some fancy mascara. :)

To everyone else I met at Pubcon, it was a pleasure meeting you and I hope we can chat again in the future. As for all you folks who I've chatted with online and finally got to meet in person (Michael Streko, Aaron Chronister, Pamela Lund, et al), it's about damn time. ;P

Bustin' Out the Beginner Love at Sessions

Since I had committed myself to being at the booth all week, I barely got to see any conference sessions. The only ones I attended were two I spoke on (a link building site clinic and a panel about effective link building strategies) and the Five Bloggers and a Microphone session. I thought the site clinic I participated on was fantastic pretty much because of Rae Hoffman--if you've never seen her dissect a site's links and point-blank tell people what they need to improve upon, you're definitely missing out. I managed to add some tidbits of advice every now and then, but most of my contributions consisted of muttering "I agree with Rae" every other minute.

The link building panel was okay, but I was a bit irked that one of the panelists and the moderator showed up late. Eric Enge went over some social media marketing case studies and did a great job of identifying topical, useful linkbait that yielded the highest, most relevant ROI. I talked about various link building tips and shared some tools I like. Greg Hartnett from Best of the Web cleared some things up about directory link building, and Roger Montti talked about link building in forums. Overall the session was fairly solid, but I'm bummed that virtually nobody asked questions. I think it was because the moderator took up the first chunk of Q&A time asking some questions to the panel, and by the time he opened up the floor to the audience, people had left or weren't interested in asking us anything. Bummer.

The only actual session I attended was Five Bloggers and a Microphone - What's the Worst That Can Happen?, and the worst thing that happened was that the session was extremely disappointing. I don't fault the speakers in any way--the panel was composed of Andy Beal, Lee Odden, Michael McDonald, Barry Schwartz, and Jane, all of whom are prolific bloggers in the SEO sphere. Rather, I think the session lacked organization and focus. There didn't seem to be a preexisting set of questions for the bloggers, so moderator Ken Jurina seemed to randomly asked everyone questions about the US Election and Twitter. The loads of Twitter questions were especially irksome and should have been saved for a separate, Twitter-specific session. Twitter is not blogging, yet it still monopolized most of the focus. When the questions were opened up to audience members, some guy stood up and asked a lengthy question about his PPC campaign (admittedly, it was pretty amusing to see the looks on everyone's faces as they all realized that someone was asking a paid search question to a blogging panel). I'd definitely love to see this session reprised at future conferences--I think it could be a huge hit if some really "meaty" questions were brainstormed beforehand.

Of the session attendees I spoke to, most felt that the sessions were on a beginner level. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, as I met a lot of folks who were attending Pubcon in order to learn more about Internet marketing and improve their websites. I met people who were a one-man SEO team for their company. People who were tasked with increasing conversions while juggling conversations with outsourced web designers. Folks who need to know the basics, who maybe need an introduction to the SEO industry, who need advice on which blogs to read, which companies to reach out to and hire, which tools to use (cough). Sure, a lot of us SEOs who have been to conference after conference may roll our eyes at the "noob focus" of Pubcon sessions, but I've found that sessions are typically most beneficial to a beginner-level audience. Advanced SEOs learn by doing, by execution, by bouncing ideas off their fellow advanced colleagues. Hell, even SMX Advanced has gotten mixed reviews (though I suspect it'll get better each year). Honestly, if you're an intermediate or advanced SEO, I'm not sure how beneficial large scale conferences like Pubcon are to you. I'm not an expert by any means, yet I've seen the same variation of the same presentation at every conference I've attended. And that's fine--there are hundreds of new people at each conference who haven't seen these presentations and don't know the material. These conferences are for them.

And Finally...

I must admit to Daron and Brandy Babin from Webmaster Radio that I've never been to a party as...let's say interesting, as Search Bash. You definitely provided some memorable moments, from the silver painted, Hellraiser-dressed, Predator-looking acrobatic dancers to your Neo/Trinity outfits, from an awkward comedian that had to do stand up in front of hundreds of drunk search marketers to a 2007 Playboy Playmate smiling politely whenever her photo was taken, from one debaucherous moment to the next (and believe me, I saw several...), thank you for throwing one unforgettable party.

Matt Inman and a Predator dude on stilts. I'll let you guess which one is "one ugly motherf*cker"...

Pat Sexton, a Playboy Bunny, and me. Pat's easily the sexiest one in this photo.

published @ December 3, 2008

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