Usability Lesson at SES San Jose

I should have seen it coming. I hadn’t planned on going to Search Engine Strategies, San Jose. There was no logical reason for a forums owner, usability consultant, ex-SEO to fly across the country to report on sessions.

Stranded overnight on the way there and on the way home, I decided there was no use in getting upset. Although my first reaction was to go back home last Sunday after the missed connection and no more flights to San Jose; since they canceled my flight home I figured there was far more to this adventure. I needed to stop trying to control anything. Obviously I was intended to be the student.

All my shyness, lack of confidence and fears of the unknown had to shut up. Once I was finally on a plane to San Jose, I leaned against the window, exhausted and slipped into sleep. Some time into the flight, I was to meet Nate Eslinger, Senior Marketing Manager from, who was sitting next to me. We finally introduced ourselves after I woke up because they were offering food and drinks. I couldn’t eat or drink. But the kind man sitting to my right was also going to SES and he had heard of me. We continued talking until we touched down several hours later.

It could’ve ended there. However, the SEO industry has a reputation for taking care of their own. When one is down, there will be search marketers from the industry who will sweep in, take care of what needs to be done and protect you if necessary. Since my luggage was already in San Jose in the United Baggage Claim office, Nate waited while I retrieved it. Since I was scheduled to be at the SEO Women’s Luncheon, which had already started, he offered to drive me to the Fairmont where I was staying and where the lunch was also held, in his rental car.

In return for his generosity, I offered to introduce him to people. All he had to do was call my cell phone. He did. Smart guy. In the days to come, he became known as my “savior”. My friends and husband were thrilled someone was looking out for me.

I arrived during the last 20 minutes of the lunch at about 1:40 Monday afternoon, wearing the same clothes I’d left home in at 4am Sunday morning. Too dazed to meet everyone, Liana Evans and Christine Churchill made sure I tried to eat something (I could stab at a salad). Thankfully I sat with Mike Grehan, who is a good friend and I needed that then. I was so tired Diane Aull guided me to the lobby to check in. I’d have never found it that day, I’m sure. I’d missed the sessions I wanted to get to, so the only thing left was to get my press pass so I’d be ready for the next day.

From that moment on, I didn’t stop moving. Sleep? Maybe 4 hours a day, on average.


I wasn’t invited to any but somehow I ended up at several anyway. Twice, I was walking on the sidewalk and was pulled into gatherings I didn’t know were going on. This is how I spent some time at the party, where I made sure to add Nate to the SearchBash party on Wednesday night, co-hosted by Ask.

The other time was when I was heading somewhere and was diverted to the SearchEngineGuide gathering. Robert Clough, whom I finally got to meet in person, has published my writings for years, but I’m not a member of their blogging team, so it felt weird being in the official picture of their writers holding SearchEngineGuide laptop bags. I’m so grateful I was given one, however. It passed every test when I used it on the way home and was stranded in the O’Hare again.

By the Google Dance, Tuesday night, it was pretty clear Nate and I were inseparable. This, of course, made for some lively gossip. The only thing missing were the paparazzi and tabloids. For the record, there’s no story to tell. Sometimes two professional people get together and become fast friends. He, me and my other good friend, Bill Slawski, did a lot of things together, including a night time drive up to the Googleplex, “just because”.

Bill and I were interviewed together twice. Once by Joe Whyte for the Search Marketing Standard and the other by Mike McDonald for Webpronews.

(See video Bill and Kim on SES, Google, Cre8asiteforums and more)

The Google Dance was nothing like what I’d imagined. It was far better. We’d seen them setting up the night before when we drove up. I have some pictures of the crowds waiting to board busses to go there. I later learned that not only were thousands of search engine marketers and companies there, but Google strongly and repeatedly encouraged all their employees to attend. Every Google employee I met, from the famous to the unknown, was vibrant, warm and happy.

A row of us sat eating behind the volleyball players. It was a stupid place to sit, but getting hit by a Google volleyball was an easy way to start conversations. Later that evening I finally got to meet Matt Cutts, which was hilarious. I didn’t think he knew who I was. Boy, was I wrong! I also got to spend more time with Brett Tabke of Webmasterworld. I don’t think we had a photo together but he was quite gracious with helping Bill and I celebrate our 5th birthday at Cre8asiteforums. I met Adam Lasnik too. What a hoot! He’s a lot of fun. I also had the honor of meeting Gillian from SEOMoz. She’s everything I imagined the boss woman at SEOMoz to be. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time together, despite our efforts.

The WebmasterRadio SearchBash party on Wednesday was another memorable experience. Bill and I were given V.I.P. status. There was some talk of our getting up on stage and dancing with the pole dancers, in honor of Cre8asite’s birthday. There was a big announcement about Cre8asiteforums’ birthday and we felt so honored by that. Nate’s choice of drink made me and Lisa Barone feel great. ‘Nuff said there.

Thursday night was party-less but no less fun. I went to JapanTown for dinner with a group of people that seemed to grow as the night went on. It was the first time I was able to spend time with Amanda Watlingtonand Chris Sherman. That dinner was the last time I ate until Saturday evening Eastern Standard time because of the travel nonsense.

Connecting the Dots Between Usability and SEO

For all the discussions over the past few years about SEO and Usability and whether or not the two should get married or just live together, I can attest to the fact that when speaking with experienced search marketers, they not only “get it”, they want more attention put on the user experience.

There was nothing user friendly about my trip to cover it for Search EngineRoundtable until I got to the part where I met a friendly person willing to help me navigate the rest of the way. He cared about my experience once I got there.

That’s a sign of a really damn good search marketer.

Self shot of me in Fairmont, Thursday night.

Christine Churchill
Li Evans
Matt McGee
Tamar Weinberg
Lee Odden
Simon Heseltine

7 thoughts on “Usability Lesson at SES San Jose”

  1. Wow, Kim, I had no idea about the backstory! Sorry you experienced such a mess getting here, but glad (and not surprised) you persevered.

    It was good to meet you, and I hope your future conference-visits go more smoothly! :)

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