Tanya, Vicqui Chan from the HHO store, and I recently attended the first day of eTail 2008 together. We presented the afternoon panel discussion on the 3 pillars of Search: SEO, Paid Search, and On-site Search. It was a great experience for all of us. We are all on different teams. And we would not normally attend a conference together even if we were for cost-savings reasons. But I think the best learning experiences at conferences come from the hallway conversations with peers and coworkers between presentations. We tend to think it is wasteful to send more than one person to an event per team. But I think it is wasteful to ignore the insights and inspirations that occur when people facing the same challenges step away from the office and try to see the bigger picture at the same time! It also ignores the benefits of teambuilding and opportunities to discover new resources.
As we prepared for this event, we discovered new ways we could collaborate beyond what we were already doing. In fact, the brainstorming that occurred was probably the best part of the entire event. We are sharing data, looking for mutual research opportunities, and rethinking long held assumptions. But what about the event itself?
It was first time we have ever seen a conference session combine all 3 areas. We had an enthusiastic reception from the conference organizers when we proposed this topic. At the event, there were about 75-100 people in the room from all the top online retail companies. We started by answering questions that were prepared in advance but quickly moved to open questions from the room. Tanya took the most questions since the majority of the audience was focused on SEO. But Vicqui and I had our share too. Really the biggest challenge was knowing when to stop talking and take the next question because there was so much we could say. The moderator tried to get us to disagree with each other's answers - just to mix it up a bit - but it didn't work. We really have far more synergy and impact when we collaborate than when we focus narrowly on our own fields.
As we talked to the participants we found that even smaller companies are not looking at search holistically. They have different people focused on the 3 areas of search and little or no collaboration. Frequently on-site search is managed by an IT team, SEM is done by a marketing team person, and SEO is the domain of a person on the web team. Sometimes landing pages are duplicated and there is inter-team competition for the same keywords. Once someone lands on a page, the focus is on conversion. But what happens if they search again? Are they lost, what didn't they like about the landing page, do they need more information? How can this step of searching again feed into the design of landing pages and the choice of keywords?
I'd like to hear from other medium and large size companies that have an on-site search program along with SEM/SEO staff. What are they doing to share ideas? Why aren't they collaborating? Or are they different from our eTail audience? It would be great to take this panel presentation to a few larger SES, SMX, and other search conferences and hear audience reactions. Is this a strength unique to HP or is there more we can learn from other search teams?