5 Takeaways From SMX East 2010 NYC

By Max Thomas

Last week I participated as a presenter and attendee at SMX East 2010 in NYC. It was a great experience. I think the true value of SMX conferences comes from the conversations and content. It’s the chance to talk with industry experts while standing in line for coffee, or talking over lunch, or finding a common interest. Yes, these experts are all *real* people who love what they do, and like to talk with others about it…along with life in general too :-)

Following is my attempt to highlight the 5 points that seemed to stick around after the conference had ended. Of course my initial “Top 5” list had 10 bullets, but I was able to whittle it down. To do so required leaving out some stellar considerations like “Yelp & Reviews” and “Instant Search” but in the end, I have a feeling these are well covered already. So here it goes.

1) Diversity

Google may be the largest driver of search traffic but online reach is about diversity. Consider the following statistics from a recent comScore and 15Miles study on online usage among search, mobile and social media (request it here). While the focus is on local search in particular, it highlights online search and interaction trends overall.

  • Search – Total annual US searches increased 13.8 percent – from 21.9 billion a year ago.
  • Variety – Consumers reference up to 7.9 percent different media sources prior to making a local purchase.
  • Facebook – With recent redesign, Facebook now gets same number of searches as eBay.
  • Reviews – 60 percent of the general public say ratings and reviews are important, 22 percent actually use them.
  • Social Media – 69% of online users more likely to use a company if also found on a social networking site.
  • Mobile – 59 percent of smart phones users search on their phone.

2) Social Media – Where’s the Beef?

Social media’s days as a fad are over. Now companies are increasingly using social networking sites to interact with customers and prospects, as well as promote specials, build brand recognition, even prospect for new customers. In addition, consumer usage of social networking sites is through the roof, and continues to grow (while usage of search is starting to slow year over year). However, the power of social media as a marketing and brand building channel is still a mystery to most CMOs. This is primarily because social is not yet quantifiable in the same way as paid advertising, paid search, etc. (We experienced this first-hand when a national client curtailed their social media campaign after not being able to quantify the campaign’s impact via sales.) Consider the following statistics from a recent eConsultancy study:

  • What are people doing in social media?
    – 56 percent are creating social profiles, 55 percent are creating video content. There’s only been a one percent increase in creating a corporate blog.
  • Why are people using Facebook and Twitter?
    – For marketing, publicizing new content, brand monitoring, getting customer feedback, reacting to customer service issues, etc.
    – Changes in the use of Twitter – 13 percent are using it as a marketing channel, 12 percent are gathering customer feedback.
    – 54 percent of companies say they’re using some sort of buzz monitoring tool. That’s pretty impressive
  • Why are companies neglecting investing in people to employ social media?
    – 61 percent of companies have 1 or 0 people dedicated to social media.
    – 47 percent of people say they can’t measure social media (…probably because they’re not dedicating people to it!).

3) User is [Still] King

Matt Cutts says it all the time, and of all the experts who spoke at SMX East, one commonality was that at the end of the day it’s about the user and how the user interacts with a website, profile, ad, whatever.

A great example is Maile Ohye’s response to the question if Google penalizes a site for being slow. Maile explained how when two sites are similar, Google will give preference to the site with the faster page speed, but to sum up the discussion she replied that again to focus on the user “…they’re far more of a critic than we [Google] can ever be.”

Even rankings can be drilled down to the user experience. For example, a website may rank high in the search engines but not be user friendly and, thus, have low conversions. In contrast, another website may have lower rankings (and thus lower traffic) but be much more user friendly and, thus, overall higher rates of conversion.

In the most classic sense of SEO rankings and user experience, consider the url that was built around rankings and ranks for a target keyword, but the page does not speak directly to the searcher. Even though there are rankings, the opportunity for a sale has been lost due to not building the page around the user experience.

4) User Generated Content – or – Why The Internet Applauds Bill Clinton

To be honest, I couldn’t imagine building a site today without incorporating some level of user generated content (UGC)…or, at the very least, thinking about how to add UGC in the near-term. Most sites any of us use today incorporate some level of UGC, be it reviews, blog comments, guest blogging, forums, video/pic uploads, individual accounts, etc. In its simplest form, UGC is a great way to generate enormous amount of content that is interesting to users, supports ongoing interaction and generates inbound links virally.

Don’t believe me? Consider the following from Dustin Woodward of

  • Studies show that 2/3 of customer touch points are user-generated. Even if you’re not participating, they are.
  • Another study says 2/3 of the Internet population has visited a social network in the past 30 days.

Gil Reich of offered the following rationale for UGC:

  • When people are looking for specific information, they go to Google.
  • What kinds of content gets search traffic? Content people are searching for, content that ranks for the phrases people are using, and content that is linked to by other sites. User Generated Content is usually the perfect answer for this.

Gil also mentioned this great quote from founders Spolsky and Atwood: We view Google’s results page as our homepage. It’s well known that 90 percent of our traffic comes from Google. Gil concurred with the observation that most users answer how they found their website with “I just use Google”.

As Conrad Saam of explained, the power of users can trump even legal actions. Consider the following examples of users-gone-wild and the end result on the websites traffic and rankings:

  • The Streisand Effect: Do you recall back in 2003 when a photo of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu home was posted on This all happened because in 2003 photographer Kenneth Adelman hired a helicopter and took aerial photo’s of Malibu mansions, one of which was Bab’s. The photo was posted on which was then sued by Barbra Streisand for US $50 million to take down the photo. Rather than immediately comply, went to the press. As a result, the picture became incredibly popular on the Internet, with over 420,000 people visiting over the next month. In the end, Bab and her lawyers choose to avert the ensuing publicity by dropping the suit and allowing the photographs to stay.
  • ThinkGeek: Ever heard of canned unicorn meat? As an April Fool’s joke, posted a blog and press release that they were selling canned unicorn meat. The National Pork Board wrote them a letter saying they had to take it down. Again, rather than immediately comply, posted the attorneys’ cease and desist letter which, in the end, resulted in 6,000+ inbound links to the website and an explosion in online popularity and discussion.

How is all this possible?

Well, it’s basically thanks to Bill Clinton for signing the Communications Decency Act, specifically Section 230, which states “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”. In other words, publishers of reviews and user-generated content are not liable for the information posted. It’s targeted toward keeping the flow of information free. Bill wanted to make sure that people had access to lots of information. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects publishers. See the Wikipedia entry for more details on this landmark legislation.

5) There’s Only One Reason To Be In This Business – You LOVE It!

I anticipated this would be the feeling at SMX or any online marketing conference, but I heard this time and time again. The reason anyone is deeply involved in SEO, SEM, social media, local search, whatever, is because we love how it changes, we love how it unites, we love how it challenges, we love figuring out how all this works, we simply love doing it!

Thanks SMX!

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Max Thomas

By Max Thomas

Max is a nationally recognized digital marketing specialist who is an expert on search engine optimization and data-driven digital marketing who has spoken at SMX and SMX Advanced, LMA Southeast, LMA Tech in San Francisco, WordCamp and other industry recognized conferences. As the founder and CEO of ThunderActive, Max has lead his team (with offices in San Diego and New York City) to success for clients in legal, real estate, life sciences, consumer goods and new tech. A Columbia undergraduate with a Yale MBA, Max is an Impact Circle Member for The Trevor Project and is an advisor to start-up companies and angel investment networks, including Gaingels and Serval Ventures in New York.

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  • Nice recap! And I like how you finished it off on a high with do it cause you love it.

  • @Gil Thanks! I enjoyed your presentation. Sorry I missed Show Me The Links.