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Top 10 Lessons from Sphinncon 2011

The Sphinncon SEO and Internet Marketing Conference recently took place in Jerusalem. The conference, organized by Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land, brought together some 400 SEO’ers and Socal Media Marketers at the luxurious Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem on January 9, 2011. It was a long day of sessions, shmoozing, and eating. Read on for my top takeaways from the day.

10 – No Internet at an Internet conference? Really?

Not to beleaguer the point, but how do you run a conference for 400 Internet marketers, and then not provide working wifi access as you had originally publicized? As a result, the Twitter stream on the conference was relatively light and much digital interaction between conference participants was lost. The food was great and the venue was highly accommodating, but the lack of Internet put a major damper on the whole event.

9 – Rich snippets are here to stay – better get your microformat groove going

As Oren Shatz highlighted during his part of the opening session and Eli Feldblum and others further elaborated on during the day, microformats are here to stay. With universal search taking up more of the available space on the SERPs, properly formatting your site to appear with Rich Snippets can help to increase visibility and CTR. With microformats, embedded video can appear in the SERPs, helping to gather more SERP real estate for your site.

8 – Opening sessions are a good mix of introductory materials and advanced tips

Sitting through the opening session, you get a good overview of intro and beginner level materials, while also having speakers talking about more technical and advanced techniques. The opening session is an interesting mix of the speakers covering the intro materials apologizing for the fact that it’s pretty basic and they’re covering stuff many people will say is nothing new, and the more advanced speakers apologizing to the SEO novices for the advanced materials they’re about to cover. Maybe two opening sessions are in order: one for the novice, one for the more advanced?

7 – Did they really just ask that? Yes, they did, now deal with it!

When you hear people asking questions at opening sessions, to which the moderator has to come and explain about link building and what it means to buy links, try to control the urge to roll your eyes and say are “you kidding me?”. The only prerequisite to attending and participating in the conference is paying the admission fee, and then everyone has the opportunity to ask whatever they like. We’ve all been there before. Let’s try to be a bit more patient when it comes to these types of questions.

6 – Do you really mean that, or do you just want to be heard?

Don’t be the guy who asks questions that are irrelevant and uninformed. Make sure you ask questions of the experts that you wouldn’t be able to find the answer to within one minute of searching on Google. And don’t prepare a list of 15 questions to ask in a row – share the wealth and let other people pose their questions as well! If you have something to follow up, or want to continue the discussion, get their contact info, and follow up by mail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. The opportunities for continuing the discussion are endless – give others the opportunity to voice their questions too.

5 – Laugh it up – it helps!

Overhearing some discussions in the halls and in the bathrooms, you more frequently hear people talking about presentations that were funny, like Sam Michaelson on Reputation Management. In a long day about SEO, some laughs go a long way to making your talk more memorable. You may not present any new data or findings, but incorporate a few successful jokes, and people will definitely be talking about your session.

4 – It’s all about Spreading the Love

Everyone at the conference was raving about Eli Feldblum from Rank Above’s session on Universal search. While Eli’s presentation style was good, what really made the session stand out was that he was sharing data not everyone can just pull off the net with a few searches – the key to a great session is covering topics and details that you can’t find on every SEO board and website. Eli’s data about universal search, one of the newest and biggest changes recently in the SERPs, was not something you should just pull out of a grocery hat or standard SEO blog. The key to a session people will be talking about for a long time is giving data, ideas or concepts you can’t just find anywhere else.

3 – Test, test test, and then test some more!

As Branko Rhitman so wonderfully put it during his session, don’t trust the experts up there on the panels who are talking about everything as if they are bringing down the law from Sinai – run your own tests and be skeptical about all the data presented at these conferences. Take the conclusions they bring, run your own experiments, and then draw your own conclusions.

2 – Don’t listen to the naysayers!

Before the conference, I saw Barry Schwartz link to a forum of Israeli SEOers who were complaining about how there is no point to enjoy these conferences. “No one ever says anything new, and it’s just a paid day off from work,” so they claim. Well, I appreciate my bosses at Matan Media sending me to the conference, but it was a lot more than just a day off and a good lunch at a nice hotel. Ignore the forums that bash conferences for having no point – even if most of the day is spent reiterating stuff you already know, it helps to know you’re on page with the community. And there’s usually at least one gem in there that makes the whole thing worth it, if not a whole treasure trove of tips and information.

1 – Become part of the community!

We are a community. Unlike doctors, who are certified from countless boards, exams, institutions, states and countries, we SEOers only really have each other. We don’t have peer review journals, well respected publications that bring you the cutting edge research. We have blogs, whiteboard Fridays, and each other. Embrace the community, become part of the community, share with the community – it’s how we all become better at what we do and who we are.
Those naysayers on the board are right – these conferences are all about networking! It’s about getting to know one another, sharing our knowledge and skills with one another and helping one another. We all benefit by the growth of the industry and our profession. So definitely go to the next conference – but come prepared with a net-stick just in case!

About Mark Ginsberg

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Mark has been working in Internet Marketing since 2007. He has managed campaigns in highly competitive sectors for large brands, but also loves to help small businesses increase their online visibility and better understand their customers and their needs.

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