ClickZ Live, Not Just a Search Conference Anymore: An Interview with Mike Grehan


If you’ve been a marketer for more than a year you’ve surely heard that SEO is changing (or, alternately, dead, dying, evolving, etc.). It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Today, SEO doesn’t mean what it used to.

ClickZ Live

I recently spoke with Mike Grehan, publisher of ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, about the changing SEO landscape, why SEOs need to be generalist marketers, and his predictions for Internet marketing in 2014 and beyond. We also talked about why these changes need to be reflected in ClickZ live, the conference formerly known as SES, which has always been a must-attend conference for marketers. Read his fascinating insights below, and register for ClickZ Live in New York this coming spring!

What is the thinking behind the recent rebranding of the SES Conference & Expo as ClickZ Live?

Over the past few years SES Conference & Expo has gradually been broadening out the content we present to digital marketers. It now pretty much reflects the content we publish online at ClickZ for the entire digital marketing industry. So it’s basically less of a rebrand and more of a merging and consolidation of two premium brands to better serve our audience both online and in person.

Mike GrehanHow is ClickZ Live different from the SES Conference?

It’s probably more of a change in perception within the industry than it is about a change of conference. SES grew from a very strong search marketing based audience into the more integrated marketing audience we attract now. Not that we’ve taken search out of the mix in any way. It’s still in there at the core, but we added so much more on top of that, such as email and display. The format in terms of sessions, major keynote speakers and everything else we’ve become renowned for in the industry remains the same.

Who specifically should attend ClickZ Live?

The simple answer is digital marketers. And at all levels. We have content developed for people with less experience and content developed specifically for those with up to three to five years’ experience. We cover everything from strategy to sessions on pure tactical campaigns. Agencies, brand managers, tech marketing practitioners can all benefit from the wealth of education we provide.

What’s your take on all the Google algo changes and shenanigans, and the shift away from SEO towards “content marketing”?

SEO started back in the day as a way of making your website more “crawler-friendly” in order to get better indexed. It was more of a technology and text focused task. Then, when Google became so visible about links being a major factor in its ranking algorithm, the focus shifted to SEO being all about link building. Now, if you ask someone to explain SEO these days, they’re more likely to talk about content and social media. So the meaning behind the term (which is a bit of misnomer anyway as I don’t know anyone in the industry who has optimized a search engine) started as one thing and now seems to mean another. It was inbound marketing for a while and now it’s content marketing and yet, fundamentally, it’s actually all just about good marketing.

As for changes in the “algo” I think, sometimes, SEOs credit themselves as being the major reason for them as they try and trick their way up the rankings. The fact of the matter is, dealing with their spam is one thing, but Google’s changes are based squarely around the fact that it’s a learning machine. This is kind of a branch of artificial intelligence and Google has had enough time over the years to learn a whole lot about what the end user thinks is good content.

Create a great experience for the end user, market it well, and strong links appear and increased end user engagement happens as a consequence. The byproduct of that is better visibility at Google. In short, good marketing is a win-win for all involved.

How should search marketers be thinking about this shift in general to more multi-dimensional approaches to digital marketing?

Just stop thinking about search in a silo. It doesn’t work very well on its own, actually. I wrote a piece for ClickZ almost nine years ago called the SEO and the blacksmith. In it I was talking about how blacksmiths had to learn new skills when motorized transport came along. And I hinted then that SEOs would have to do the same thing and change with the times. Of course, blacksmiths didn’t die out altogether. But you don’t see them everywhere like you used to.

As Google changes its algorithm to reflect the most popular content that end users like, much of it based purely on “implicit” end user data, then SEOs need to change and adapt with it.

Could I get your single most bold prediction for internet marketing next year?

We have a tendency in the industry to talk only about strategic and tactical issues based around marketing messages. And sure advertising and promotion is a crucial aspect of marketing per se. However, if you look at the four P’s as building blocks of marketing (product, price, place, promotion) the one that seems to get the least attention is “place.”

Of course, it had to be shoehorned into the matrix to make it fit. But basically it means distribution. And without good distribution, all of your marketing efforts can crumble. You can promote and advertise as much as you want, but if your product is not available or has shipping problems, you can forget it.

I’m writing a lot about connected marketing, it’s more about the people and the change in the way that people consume media. But it’s also about the way that machines will begin to speak to each other. With billions of machines coming together on what is loosely known as “the internet of everything,” the way  we live, work and do business will change dramatically, And one area that will change beyond recognition will be in distribution models. Supply and demand will be affected by a new competitive equilibrium in everything from product design, time to market and other variables and marketing imperatives.

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Sandra Jones
Jan 27, 2014

Yes, I agree that this event is no more a mere online marketing event. It is something more exciting and more innovative than other digital marketing summits.

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