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Checking the Con in PubCon

I have a head for details. I have always been very observant, and I remember even tiny details of conversations, environments, and facial expressions. Sometimes it bugs me, as I over-analyze and seek meaning in probably meaningless gestures. But more often, those little details fall into place later and provide clues for understanding oberved paradoxes. Paradoxes like, if he’s so successful at SEO, why did he quit and take a corporate job in order to “have a regular salary“? Or, if she’s a full time SEO but blogs on the web virtually all the time, when does she do actual SEO work?

Well, post Pubcon, I returned to the SERPs armed with a collection of verbal claims from SEOs and marketers just begging for verification.

I’m #1 everywhere for __________“, said one. Well, not from here you’re not. In fact, not from any of the 12 geo-located proxies I have set up across the country. Yes you rank, and that is impressive, but #6 and #4 are not the same as #1. And, it’s not “everywhere” and certainly not Ask nor Google. Also, the reason I looked to verify the claim in the first place: I believe it takes significantly more “power” to hold a #1 spot consistently in your niche, than a top 10. You, my friend, are not as powerful as you may believe.

Of course it may have been the beer talking, and as I said I still have great respect for anyone holding the top spots in competitive areas. It’s simply not “#1”, and it’s simply not “everywhere”.

Another case: “I wrote an ebook on _________ and got it to the top and sold XXXX copies last year”. Okay! I love to hear success stories, and I don’t doubt one bit that you did just what you said. Sometimes, timing is everything, right? But, isn’t it too bad that your ebook is no where to be found today? And not mentioned by anyone, or linked to by anyone? It would have been GREAT to keep selling it organically, right?

Again, nothing personal, and much respect for the work and success… but perhaps you told everybody about it at the last Pubcon or SES, and caused a competitive surge or something because I can’ find any evidence of it today. On second thought… I wish you had told me about your current money-making ebook. I bet it’s kicking butt in the SERPs right now….

How many times did I hear people at Pubcon say “SEO is easy. It’s so basic, and people just don’t know it”. Yup. I, to, saw that after suffering through a few sessions, especially the expert panels that “tore apart” selected websites. How many times did I hear the same things… certainly enough to imprint them permanently on the brains of new SEOs. “Keywords in Title tags, not too long” and “you’re www is a 302 to your canonical domain – fix it!” and “what’s with the images? Spiders can’t read images”. Gee… is it really that easy? Maybe every webmaster should start selling SEO services tomorrow, because this stuff is easy.

I saw many people writing down tips to bring back home. I heard several say “if I just get a few god tricks and tips, it paid for my visit”. Yes, that is the con in pubcon, and yours is the bias that ensures those tips will be believed, the value will have been delivered, and you will remain thristy for more SEO next year.

I think more than ever before, Pubcon is about introducing web masters, business owners, and marketers to the concept of SEO, and introducing SEO practitioners to each other on a hierarchical basis. The consumers (web masters, business owners, and marketers) see what SEO can do, and sometimes get the wrong message (that it is easy). That’s ok, because until they fail a few times they don’t make for good SEO clients anyway.

And the SEO’s? Well, that hierarchy is also an economic system, pushing the funds and new talent upwards to the established elite. Newbies are told constantly of the opportunity to mingle with the experienced folks at the pubs around pubcon, yet usually only find each other at those bars. The real people arrange their rendezvous, and inclusion is a process of selection. Did you get included/invited? Or excluded? I bet it made all the difference in your Pubcon experience.


  1. Peter wrote:

    I concur with some of those sentiments. The most valuable part of my Pubcon experience this year (the spring one, not the fall one) was the people I’ve connected with locally as a result of being there. Other than Jim Boykin’s presentation, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open during the sessions. Not being a regular at WMW, or a heavy drinker, the exclusive parties don’t have much lure for me. I don’t agree so much with the part about SEO being easy or difficult. In the long run, I think, SEO isn’t even going to be a separate topic. It’s going to be integrated into web development and marketing in general.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  2. aaron wall wrote:

    I think it is dumb for engines to hold small exclusive parties. Cool if one of us does it. Just plain dumb if they do.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 4:22 am | Permalink
  3. Peter wrote:

    Bill, I think you’d find that for a lot of people attending, getting to “play withthe ‘in crowd'” isn’t really that high on the list of important things to do at a Pubcon. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I’m going to conferences to network and learn. Yea, at Pubcon I met some of the “in crowd” (if that’s what you want to call it), and for the most part found them to be very nice, congenial people. However, I also met several locals, and as a result we’ve been doing local events on a monthly basis here in Boston (non-exclusive, so anyone around Boston wants to, please get in touch). I guess I find it somewhat offensive to suggest that the point of going to a Pubcon would be to meet the “in crowd”, because there are a lot of really brilliant people sitting in the audience also.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 7:36 am | Permalink
  4. john andrews wrote:

    BINGO! That’s right Peter. But I saw Bill first say “experienced SEOs” before he said “the in crowd” and that is also accurate — there were many very new people with limited experience seeking connections with more experienced SEOs. To be brutally honest, I am not sure which is more disappointing, finding out a “rockstar” really isn’t that good at modern day SEO, or finding out you are the only one in a conversation who knows what he’s talking about because everyone else is green.

    I have to say that for me, the best part of Pubcon was meeting alot of people from all over the world regadless of their SEO knowledge. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been better, though.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  5. Peter wrote:

    It just wouldn’t bother me to be in a conversation with a group of people who are all less experienced in SEO.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  6. Jeez John…

    You’re really pushing me to write that email I keep threatning…. except, I know it would come back to haunt me – lol!!! So I’ll have to save my “Give me a freaking break, you my friend are no SEO expert… and I knew that when you called yourself an expert…” because no one can ever be an expert at SEO (hence why I love it… the constant learning).

    Where to start…. Yes “experienced SEOs” and “the in crowd” are not necessarily the same thing….Ok, I recently met a few SEOs who I had never “heard of” but who had all been doing SEO for years and we all had the greatest 3 hour discussion about SEO and I thought to myself, “I wish more ‘unknown names’ spoke out more in the SEO world.” But then it occurred to me that when you are in the grind of SEO, you really have no time to do other things… I can’t be the only person that gets lost in the SERPs (aka, hours later I look up and realize I need to do other things) because I’m trying to figure out what works in a particular vertical? After meeting them, I thought that I should do a series of articles on the everyday SEO: the agency folks, the in-house- SEOs, the one man band whose site is rocking in a certain vertical… but then again I have work to do.

    OH: And re: “If he’s so successful at SEO, why did he quit and take a corporate job in order to “have a regular salary?” You know alot of people ask me this… but when you meet me you’ll see why: I’m a very social person and I got tired of talking to my computer – LOL.

    Seriously, that’s a question that I ask other SEOs, because the fact is, that you’ll make more doing SEO for yourself than a company could ever pay you. Funny thing is… when I was interviewing for SEO positions, I asked the SEOs interviewing me that very question. Because I can’t see myself working with SEOs who work for a company who do it for the money… because that means that they are not passionate about it.

    (and BTW: I read in the mornings and evenings on the train… and try to blog during my lunch break…)

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  7. I just reread my comment and realize that you may have thought I was talking about you in my “seo expert” comment… I wasn’t. I just meant the people in this industry who call themselves experts.

    Sunday, December 3, 2006 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  8. John Andrews wrote:

    No worries, Natasha. I agree with you, and give you permission to kick me if you ever catch me referring to myself as an expert or approving an intro or bio that does the same.

    I think you just learned a good life lesson, though. Never re-read your own comments :-)

    Sunday, December 3, 2006 at 10:19 pm | Permalink