Chicago SES – A Christmas Lover’s Conference

As I stood at the 8th Street Lobby at the Chicago Hilton Wednesday morning awaiting the shuttle to O’Hare airport, I was able to take in the beautiful hotel for a few more minutes. Every floor was decorated for the holiday season, with immaculate Christmas trees and a giant Gingerbread house that smelled of gingerbread as you walked by. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. Hotel employees just getting into work hustled in through the lobby entrance, several of them women who broke into a run once inside.

Many people deny themselves the Chicago Search Engine Strategies experience due to the winter cold and fears of weather and travel. For those who do make the journey, you may be treated to winter time scenes that delight the senses. As we sat in Kitty O’Sheas pub inside the warm hotel, a gentle snow fell against a backlight of city lights and shiny wet streets. It was a relaxing contrast to the “Drunken SEO Roundtable” discussion taking place.

Attendance at this conference was down and everyone knew it. Several big SEO companies were not there at all. While they are missed, their absence allows the next generation of innovators to step up to the plate and play ball. The panels were full. In the SEO and Usability panel I participated in, all but one of the 5 of us, are still considered newcomers to the conference speaking pool. We were all knowledgeable and ready for show time.

Typically SES conferences are hectic. There are many tracks for attendees. Experienced speakers may be on multiple panels, as well as scheduled for client meetings and interviews. Using myself as an example, I flew in with my husband Monday night and attended a networking gathering for speakers and vendors. I retired early because I had a morning talk to deliver. After my session ended at 11:30, I spent the rest of day being interviewed and looking for people I wanted to meet in the Exhibit hall. While some of my business partners were also in the building, they too were busy and I never managed to catch up with them.

After witnessing the WebmasterRadio.FM Roundtable in Kitty’s and grabbing a meal, my husband and I were happy to head on upstairs and crash. It was a windy, freezing cold night, so walking around the city was only for the brave and awake.

We awoke at 7am to begin the journey back home to Pennsylvania. It used to be that I’d stay all week at conferences and so did speakers and live bloggers. But, with so many conferences to attend and hotel and travel fees so high, everyone has cut down on their length of stay. Many have been forced to severely limit what conferences they attend. Some people have never accepted the division of SES and SMX and made personal allegiances to one or the other. This has cut down on the networking and tradional “class reunion” style of evening gatherings that have made SEO conferences so popular. My schedule permitted me to attend just one session. I could have squished in one more but had needed an email catch up break. Work doesn’t stop when I leave the office.

Meeting Doug Heil

The ihelpu forums is run by Doug Heil. I was an occasional participant there in the early days of SEO. A few moderators from his forums eventually moved over to other forums such as High Rankings , Cre8asiteforums and SearchEngineWatch . I had email conversations with Doug over the years and of course, knew about his reputation in the industry. He fiercely dislikes “black hat” SEO and is never afraid to speak his mind or share his opinions, both in his forums and in blog comments. He brands himself as being more ethical in his work practices than many in the industry. It’s safe to say he has ticked off many people at one point or another, including myself. I was less than pleased that he jumped on an anti-Cre8pc crusade, conducted by someone who has never met or worked with me.

Doug has a tangled history with SES and the SEO community. It’s lasted over a dozen years. When word came he was speaking at SES, there was a bit of backlash. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I wanted to meet Doug. So it was a surprise to turn my head at Kitty’s to see Doug enter the room we were all in. He instantly recognized me, flashed a great smile and greeted me warmly. That was a good start.

Still, caution lights blazing, I waited to see how this would go down and how the room of people would react. Doug was announced as he entered the room by someone. There were no boo’s. More of a mild curiosity for this guy we all knew about online but wasn’t a regular traveler to conferences. Doug sat next to me and we began chatting immediately. We both run forums and we know, as others like us do, what that really means. We don’t even have to say it. We just know. That he and I have survived so long with our forums is a testament to our dedication, at the very least.

Doug has a kind face and warm voice. Sure, he erupts when someone speaks up on something he feels he must challenge. This is the Doug we all know. But he wasn’t arrogant or mean. He was respectful with me. It very well could be that he was “just being nice” and I could accept that. I’m a peaceful person and I like to listen. Eventually as the Roundtable discussion went on, Doug got sucked into the conversation. I left Kitty’s. I don’t know what happened after that.

Missed the Women

Many well known women in SEO didn’t attend this conference. Those that did come were busy or arrived on days when I was already heading back home. Still, I was in the company of some well regarded, class acts and it’s always such an honor. The lack of women could be felt in several ways. There were many women in the audience at the SEO and Usability session, several of whom asked very good questions. I wished to have been able to meet them. This is one of the reasons why I love “unconferences” and smaller events. We’re better able to get to know one another when things are not so rushed.

Tomorrow I hope to write more about the Roundtable held Tuesday evening at Kitty O’Sheas and relate to you my first experience with WebmasterRadio . Jim Hedger thought to interview me and it was a fun time. I have pictures from both of these moments. Lastly, there were two video interviews done with me. When they post their work, I’ll let you know about that too.

2 thoughts on “Chicago SES – A Christmas Lover’s Conference”

  1. It was great to see you as always, this is a fantastic recap of everything. Hopefully we’ll get to sit down sometime soon, I’d love to just chat with you someday about life, being a woman in this industry and everything else.

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