This past Thursday and Friday I got to do something I've wanted to do for a long time - attend a search conference (specifically, SearchLove San Diego, which is put on by Distilled.) I was really excited, yet at the same time realized I didn't really know what to expect. Here are five things I learned that other conference newbies might find helpful.
1. Bring your laptop and MiFi
Being out of the office for just a few hours, let alone two days, can quickly put you behind on emails and deliverables. Thinking I wanted to pack lightly and not lug around my laptop and charger, I brought my iPad on Day 1 of SearchLove. I also decided to go old-school with note-taking by using an actual small notebook and pen (only to ask myself about an hour into the first presentation: "Dude, what was I thinking?!?") While I was able to keep up with emails, it just wasn't the same as having my laptop, and I quickly discovered that so many awesome tips will be thrown at you so fast that it's hard to keep up unless you're typing. I brought my laptop on Day 2 and was really glad I did.
I've also been told that WiFi can get a little sketchy at conferences, so our team brought along the MiFi. Luckily, we didn't have to use it because our connection at Paradise Point was fine; it probably depends on the venue.
2. Take a lot of notes, review and organize them, then share your learnings with your team
Even though most conferences and speakers will make their slides available after the event, you can't always rely on this. You also might not remember the context, examples, or extra tips given throughout a presentation. If you missed something or have a question about a presentation, don't be afraid to reach out to the speaker to get what you need. They usually give their contact information at the beginning and end of the presentation for that very reason.
Next, put together a quick deck of key takeaways to share with the rest of your team once you're back in the office. Download the presenters' slides and link bundles if available, and share those as well. I highly recommend holding a separate brainstorm session once the team has digested everything to figure out how to make the takeaways actionable for your clients.
3. Use TweetDeck, HootSuite, etc. for a fully-engaging experience
One of the coolest parts was when I decided to keep my TweetDeck up for a while and follow all the mentions of #searchlove. People will retweet tips, add their own experiences on something discussed, and of course joke around with each other:
It's also a great way to network during the event. People will retweet and favorite your tips. You'll find new people to follow. Speaking of, be sure to follow the speakers on Twitter because you never know when they might follow you back (thanks Buzzstream and Rick Backus!) This also gives you a great way to strike up a conversation when you run into them later at lunch or the evening networking party, which is the perfect segue to my next tip.
4. Network, network, network
I found this to be one of the biggest and most rewarding parts of going to SearchLove. You might be tired after a full day at a conference, but don't let that deter you from attending the networking party after (and there will always be one.) You'll meet some really cool people, learn even more awesome things, and maybe even find a new business partner or your next hire.
Be sure to bring a stack of business cards along - you'll need them! As for the large amount of business cards you'll collect from the people you meet, take the next step and connect with them on LinkedIn or Twitter, and don't leave it at that-keep in touch to build the relationship instead of letting it go stagnant.
It's also okay to geek out a little when you spot Rand Fishkin or another well-known industry expert for the first time, but don't forget your manners. :) Look for a good opportunity to join in on a group conversation. Listen and be respectful of those talking (don't interrupt or try to dominate the conversation), but also don't be afraid to chime in when you have something relevant to add.
The SEER West team (Allie, myself, and Charlotte) at the networking event on Friday.
5. Prepare to have your mind blown no matter your experience level
One of the biggest things I wondered about was what the presentations and speakers would be like. Whether you're a newbie or self-proclaimed SEO ninja, you'll always walk away with a big list of ideas that will have you completely stoked. I found myself jotting down notes on how I could apply what I was learning to my current clients and was able to hit the ground running when I got back to the office.
SearchLove speakers giving quick tips at the end of the day (image provided by Distilled)
What types of things can you expect to learn? Here are just a few:
- New ways of doing and/or thinking about everyday tasks: Per Adria Saracino, play the five why's game (ask yourself "why" five times to really get at the root of what you're trying to do.) You'll be amazed at what you come up with from this simple exercise.
- Insights on newer tactics and hot topics: Yes mobile, I'm talking about you. Did you know that 80% of daily Facebook users log in through mobile devices now?
- Areas you don't know much about yet: For me, Darren Shaw's ideas on cleaning up local citations were a huge help, not to mention timely because I'm currently working on that very thing for a client.
- New books to check out: "Pioneers of Digital: Success Stories from Leaders in Advertising, Marketing, Search and Social Media" by Mel Carson will make a great addition to our SEER library.
- Tools you didn't know existed that will make your job so much easier: Got a client with a small budget? Sites like http://infogr.am let you create quality infographics for free.
Trust me. Even though the schedules can look rough from first glance, you won't be bored for a single second. The speakers are really engaging, make things easy to understand, and will give you the tools and actionable takeaways you need to take your SEO strategies to the next level.