search summit

Search Summit 2007 logoI had the pleasure of attending Search Summit 2007 this week, which bills itself as “THE Australian Search Marketing Conference”.

That would be a big call for any conference, let alone one that focuses on what is now called ‘the search industry’, but it lived up to the billing.

The speaker who was probably most influential in my decision to attend was Chris Sherman, whose work with Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineWatch and more recently Search Engine Land has not only inspired me in theory but has provided practical guidelines that have helped me and my clients no end.

It’s funny how things work out. Even a few years ago, my emphasis on optimising websites for search engines was viewed with some distaste by web designer colleagues who believed that as long as you made quality websites (meaning valid, semantic, accessible, fast-loading, standards-compliant and tables-free websites with strong design aesthetics and well-written text), people would find them.

SEO was viewed as being dominated by ‘black hats’ who favoured keyword spamming, hidden text, site cloaking, link farming and other nefarious means of generating traffic. My belief remains that I have clients looking for a commercial edge and I can’t just rely on “build it and they will come”.

What’s more, my experience has been – and remains – that so many people fail to implement even basic search engine optimisation techniques that it’s not hard to positively affect search engine ranking placement and page rank by using meta tags, markup attributes, editorial technique and good old common sense.

Designers and developers seem now, however, to be paying more attention to SEO techniques. There’s not much room anymore for a commercial designer or developer to say they leave that to the marketing department.

Maybe I have an advantage there, in that I AM the marketing department, as well as the design department, the development department, the systems department, the editorial department and the hosting department. I also make pretty good coffee.

Anyway, Chris Sherman was terrific. The fear is always that someone you admire will turn out not to be a very good speaker or, worse, they can talk but they don’t say anything of value. Chris was the opposite: warm and engaging, serious and silly, insightful and challenging. I came away feeling I had learned some things about how search has developed and where it’s going.

And that was just the keynote speaker.

The day was packed with sessions drawing on the skills and experience of people whose work I know well (Chris Dimmock, Andy Beal, Detlev Johnson) and those new to me (Aidan Beanland, Fred Schebesta, Hilton Rutger). One session was even moderated by Russ Weakley, co-chair of the Web Standards Group and one of Australia’s best designers.

As it happened, I didn’t even get to the second day (too much work to do!), which featured one of the sessions that I was most interested in: Adam Lasnik and others from Google answering questions about the dominant search engine of our time, including how it deals with CSS, standards compliance and semantic code.

Fortunately, as is the way with many internet-focused conferences these days, proceedings were recorded and made available for attendees to download.

I feel this convergence of design, development and search skills will continue to grow into the future, although I can’t help hoping it won’t grow so fast that I can’t stay somewhere near the front ranks.

I’ll just have to work harder (or smarter), I suppose.