As a search and internet marketer, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work with our employers and clients, as well as the task of keeping up with the latest developments from search engines, social media platforms and industry tools.
Today, I’d like to step back from this and discuss search and social marketing as a community — and what that sense of community means for us as professionals and as an industry.
From the earliest days, search marketers have enjoyed an ecosystem that values sharing knowledge and friendship among search professionals, businesses and search engines.
The Search Engine Strategies conferences began in 1999, the same year WebMasterWorld.com was registered. Over the years, there have been countless articles, discussions, conferences, trainings, meet-ups and, yes, parties that joined us together.
We’ve grown and changed quite a bit since then. In its early years, search marketing was largely about secrets and tricks. There were plenty of advocates for best practices and wholesome SEO — in fact, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, SEMPO, was created in 2002 as a professional community that promoted ethical SEO.
At the same time, our industry had a reputation for gaming the system with insider knowledge. Admittedly, that Wild West mentality helped make search a fun business to work in.
Over time, the general public came online and business grew to take the Internet seriously — and as the web matured, so did the SEO community. Today, search engine optimization doesn’t stand so alone; it’s part of a larger Inbound Marketing foundation.
The modern, professional age of SEO and internet marketing, one based on providing and demonstrating value, is well established. This makes our community professionally rewarding… and we haven’t lost our sense of humor.
SEO is alive and well. As a practitioner, you’re part of a vibrant community. Just look at the writers here on Search Engine Land.
You’ll find people like Danny Sullivan, Barry Schwartz, and Eric Ward, who pioneered our industry from its earliest days. Our forums and online communities are strong. Visit sites like Webmaster World or Cre8asite. You can see great advice from longtime members, discuss the latest news and developments, and ask your own questions.
At conferences like Search Engine Strategies, Search Marketing Expo and PubCon, you can meet long time experts like Copy Blogger’s Brian Clark, Moz’s Rand Fishkin and Disney’s Jeff Preston as well as search engine employees like Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester.
From people in the marketing trenches to the makers of the tools we use to representatives of the search engines themselves, dozens and dozens of talented professionals want to teach you and meet you. In addition to learning from the speakers, you’ll meet your peers from around the world, make new friends and have lots of fun.
Locally, in your community, look for meet-ups or start your own. I used to host an SEO meet-up in Seattle where I met all sorts of great people from marketers to entrepreneurs. Today, the Seattle SEO Network holds popular monthly events and there are other groups for marketing analytics, social media, start-ups and more. Not only will you gain professional knowledge, you will make friends and connections, and you will learn about opportunities that may lead to your next big career move.
Another thing SEOs can do is join a larger marketing group like the American Marketing Association or International Association of Business Communicators. This is a good way to gain a larger perspective and meet professionals in different roles. Look for local chapters. Many have monthly meetings or luncheons open to the public where you can meet other professionals.
The first step is to find out what’s happening in your community. Look for meet-ups online or in your local newspaper. It doesn’t have to be SEO specific. Social media gatherings (or any internet marketing event) are a great place to start. The key is to get out there and meet others.
I’ve found time and time again the most rewarding part of any conference or meet-up is not the presentation; it’s getting to know colleagues, making new friends and catching up with old ones.
Don’t wait for the right topic; that’s a bonus. Go for the people. When you attend events, don’t be a wallflower; introduce yourself to others. Networking is a lot easier and more fun when you share a mutual interest and are not trying to sell anything. You already have stuff to talk about.
Get to know the organizers. If you feel up to it, volunteer yourself as a presenter. You don’t have to be Steve Jobs to make a good presentation. The more often you talk, the easier it gets and the better you get. Besides, it’s great for establishing yourself as an expert and getting new customers to seek you out.
If you cannot find a local meet-up, start your own. You don’t have to live in a big city. Every community has businesses engaged in internet marketing. Wherever you are, you’ll find others with a thirst for information and connections. Not every gathering needs a presentation or speaker, either — you can engage in a roundtable-style discussion, or even just plain socialize.
To find others in the field, search LinkedIn for SEO and your city or town name. Reach out to a few people and ask if they’re interested in a get-together. With a little digging you should be able to find a coffee house, restaurant or bar eager to host your event. Finally, you can list your event on a site like Eventbrite, which is free for free events.
If you can swing it, I highly recommend traveling to one of the larger events. They put a lot of thought into their programs, gather incredible speakers and sometimes feature representatives from the search engines.
For many attendees, their employers pay admission, travel and hotel, so there is a pressure to get the most out of the experience. This leads me to the biggest mistake I see at conferences: people file in for the sessions, take perfect notes, then leave or get lots of rest before the next day.
It sounds like the responsible thing to do — however, if you avoid the parties and networking events, or even just hanging out at the bar with other attendees, you are missing out on what I consider to be the most valuable part of any conference.
The opportunity to make friends and meet colleagues is priceless. You’ll get to swap stories, share real-world experiences, debate practices and more in a relaxed, fun environment. Even when not talking shop, the friends I’ve made via conferences have lasted me a career and made search marketing a rewarding endeavor.
Whether you do it for knowledge, to further your career or just to have fun with colleagues, get active in your search and internet marketing community.
The more you put into it — as a participant, presenter or organizer — the more you’ll get back. SEO, inbound and all of online marketing is an exciting, vibrant field, and sharing with colleagues who get you and understand what you do is a big part of it. Don’t miss out.