• http://bkacontent.com Greg Secrist

    Very interesting perspective Danny! I definitely agree that ClickZ (SES or whatever they decide to call themselves) has slowly lost touch with it’s audience, as well as their exhibitors. As an exhibitor at several SMX events over the last few years, we have really appreciated the consistent affordable pricing and the awesome service and material you offer to both exhibitors and attendees. See you at SMX Advanced in Seattle!

  • weboptimist

    Whatever the reason for the decline, ditching the SES brand for ClickZ was a really bad move.

  • lyndseo

    “But search marketers, in my opinion, also appreciate having shows that are focused just on search. Because search — which makes up about half of all online ad spend — is a huge, complicated subject. It deserves that attention.”

    Yes yes yes yes yes. My focus is SEO. I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a conference that I’ll want maybe 25% of sessions.

  • Aussiewebmaster

    mate am hoping this was written in an altered state – all conferences have had dips in attendance compared to four or five years ago – the vendors have dropped too at yours and more dramatically at the SES – not calling ClickZ – shows this year.

    The days of two floors crammed with vendors has gone – in part the growth of social and apps has taken the thunder and the diversity of shows has spread the rest out.

    The move to the International market where the shows have not been going for 15 years was a smart move by you and Incisive. Quite possibly the days of the huge shows are gone and more regional and localized ones are the future – sort of how the search results themselves are moving.

    The article was a bit mean spirited especially as you gave nods to Moz and Brett – some of the long-term in house staff were there when you were chairing the events. They worked diligently for you as they are trying to do now for your successors.

    The name change may be a silly move and worth writing about – thought you were bigger than the other shots.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Frank, I didn’t mean it to be mean-spirited. But fair point, and point taken.

    I certainly didn’t mean to slight any of the individuals involved with the shows. I don’t think any of the in-house staff programming Incisive shows now or previously ever worked with me, during the short time I was under contract with Incisive. You’re confused, I think, on that. But I don’t doubt the people there now and in the past work hard, are good people and are doing their best.

    When Incisive announced that it was killing the SES brand, I debated whether to write anything at all. In the end, I decided it was significant enough that I should. SES was the first search conference our industry ever had. It was also the largest, with a long history. It was notable.

    And writing about it, I’m going to give my take on it. I get people might not agree with it, but that’s my take.

    When the news came today that SES was apparently back — again, I debated and decided that yes, it was significant enough that I should write something about it — and again, you’re going to get my take on it, my view of what I think is going on with the name changes and what’s driving them.

    When you say the thunder has gone out of the shows — no. They’ve not. That’s a big reason why I also felt like I should write something. Because after the ClickZ Live news, people started talking about what was happening at Incisive as if it was somehow indicative of the entire industry.

    I don’t even know the last time you were at an SMX event. But our attendance has absolutely NOT dropped dramatically, nor have the vendors. Since I’m on the programming site, I focus much more on the attendees — and that’s been going fine. We have been growing, exactly as I said. To my knowledge, Pubcon seems to have been holding steady or growing. Mozcon has as well.

    SES has gotten smaller, by its own numbers, every year (6000 in 2009/10, 5000 in 2011, 3500-4000 in 2012, all figures from the SES site or given during interviews over the years). Part of that is because there are more competitors in the past. I agree, the mega-show of 8,000 people probably won’t come back for anyone. But part of the SES drop, from my perspective, is that it lost the soul of having search as part of the shows — leading up to the entire renaming to ClickZ Live last year.

    If you want to fault me on something, please let it be that I can be too passionate about the search industry. After all these years, I still love it. I loved starting SES because it gave the search industry an event of its own for the first time, for the first time search wasn’t just a session or maybe two shoved in within another conference.

    Search deserved better than that. It still does. And I think that if you have a passion within your company for something, that helps with the success. Why call out Moz and Pubcon? Both of those events continue to be run by their founding companies, companies that have deep passion for what they are doing.

    With Incisive, I don’t feel the top management has any particular passion for search. It’s just one of many verticals they have, nothing that needs to be treated special in any way, all part of the goal of just making money (or at the moment, digging out of debt). Of course, my opinion of that is shaped by my first-hand direct interaction with Incisive’s upper management after it purchased SES. And it’s one of the key reasons I decided to leave before they could ever even figure out what type of contract to offer me. There was no soul there, to me.

    The individual employees may have soul, but if the company itself doesn’t, I think it hinders that. Maybe I put way too much weight into it. But that’s part of my take.

  • Brad Geddes

    I use to attend & speak at almost every SES show for 5 years in the US; and also did a few international events. I found the turning point of SES at the San Fran show in 2011.

    At that show, I was told I could not speak at more than one session per show, In addition, I was told that I could not longer do any training sessions with SES because I compete with them (Market Motive, Official Google Seminars, Certified Knowledge) and that they would not longer allow competitors to gain visibility at their shows.

    This is where Third Door Media products shine. If its great content, they will link to it, promote it, and show it off (just look how often Barry links to Search Engine Watch in SeachCap). SMX puts users first regardless of where the content exists. SMX and I quickly found common ground in doing full day AdWords workshops at SMX shows (and this year, we’ll do them at every show in the US, Milan, Sydney, and Munich) and the workshops have been huge hits all over the world.

    In addition at the San Fran 2011 show, the keynote was terrible. It was a trainwreck of a speaker talking about a product that helps men and women have better sex and how she built the product using lots of ‘one page wonder’ product suggestions. It sounded like a sales pitch for several products and not an inspiring keynote.

    I also heard several stories about how SES tried to kick people off its board due to offering competing products (especially with the SES training that was evolving a couple years ago) however, as I was not one of those people, I just have credible sources and don’t have first hand knowledge.

    Back in 2005-2009, SES was a great show (and before, but I didn’t attend any before those days); however, the treatment of the show & speakers has not helped their cause over the years. I hope the show grows and becomes great again, but it needs to learn how to embrace the ‘openness’ of the search community first. Until it can change how it treats the community, it’ll struggle to find its former glory.

  • http://www.sagerock.com/blog Sage Lewis

    I agree with Frank in that SEO conferences may have had their mass appeal peak and are now fading. In part I think Google doesn’t help matters. They make search convoluted and confusing to many people. So I think people might be coming apathetic out of exhaustion. I am now sometimes seeing my 2 day SEO class get cancelled at Cleveland Stare University because they can’t find 5 people to come to the class. That used to never happen. In fact I’m seeing a slow decline in attendance in my social media class as well. I’d say it was me but they don’t promote the teachers of their classes. It just feels like there is less mainstream interest.

    That said, search practitioners need to be going to shows like SMX, Pubcon and Moz. It’s the insiders that seriously need these shows.

    I’ve worked very closely with ClickZ and company. Everyone who has worked there has always been very dedicated to the shows and content. But I don’t think I would be saying anything radical by admitting they lost the soul of the operation when you left. They just never could regain the perspective you brought. That was the company’s fatal flaw.

  • Daron Paul Babin

    So in my opinion, the level of professionalism went into the crapper from 2009 – on at SES. I think part of any good show, is rallying your vendors and partners to help promote your show right along with you. That’s hard to expect when you’re messing with those relationships.

    I called this one though. This is one time I’m sick to my stomach at being right. Not that I’m not glad to see SMX benefit from someone else’s failure. But, I’ve always felt a well balanced diversity with several shows held a benefit to the community at large.

  • http://www.brooklynparrots.com/ brooklynparrot

    Hi Brad, curious about the identity of the SES 2011 Keynote speaker you mentioned in the above post, I did some quick research and visited her site. All I can say is OMG (NSFW).

  • http://www.johnrampton.com/ John Rampton

    Fabulous write up. I think that the industry is evolving as a whole into something much bigger and better than we could ever imagine. Conferences like SES have not evolved as fast as others like SMX, Pubcon, Moz and a few other select conferences. I’ve been to and spoken at most of them. I don’t fault them for trying to change as it needed a change… I think they just gambled in the wrong direction.

    Hopefully they can pivot and become better, because competition breeds innovation. I’m just super happy that we have amazing conferences in the industry that we can even compair. Keep up the good work and keep voicing your opinions. There aren’t many people out there that can openly voice their opinions as well as you @dannysullivan:disqus and I think it’s what the industry needs more of. It’ll make it better!

  • http://deepcereal.com Lauren Donovan

    I was at that SES SFO ’11 —- that was one of the most bizarre keynotes I’ve ever seen…

  • http://seekingdavidogilvy.tumblr.com/ Andrew Yang

    I’ll just be happier with easier hash tags. Really embarrassed that I kept on tweeting with #CLZTO instead of #CZLTO.