Top 3 Takeaways from SMX Toronto

Going through my notes from SMX Toronto I was struck by a few recurring themes, brought up by different speakers at different panels:

1. Focus on Outcomes

Avinash said it in his initial keynote. Tamera repeated it nicely later when she talked about how people new to social media ask “How can I get this video to go viral and get 15 million views?” and I ask “Why would you want that?” People routinely focus on vanity metrics. They want to see “how awesome are we?” Sionne joked at a later panel “So far I’ve heard 2 answers to every question: It depends, and Focus on Outcomes.” Sionne twice used Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the End in Mind.”  Avinash kept talking about the importance of understanding the numbers’ context. I saw a related Tweet recently from Jason Falls, where he said that the real Social Media metrics are the business metrics that you’re trying to improve through Social Media. Always pay attention to why you’re doing something, and make sure you’re metrics are focused on that.

SMX Toronto

2. Optimize for the Relationship, not the Quick Hit

Avinash’s opening keynote shattered the conventional wisdom that PPC campaigns deliver most of their results in that first and only session. Apparently not. There’s a lot less impulse buying on the Web than people think. More likely he clicked on your ad and he’s checking you out, but he’s not going to convert today. So change your strategy. He gave a case study of a travel site that used this insight to change 3 things about their site:

  • Softened language and flow from “Buy now” to “Learn more”
  • Provided a “Save My Itinerary” feature
  • Provided a checkbox and input box for “e-mail me if the prices go up or down by more than 10%”

This doubled conversion and increased their revenue by $18 million in 3 months. Cool.

This theme of optimizing for the relationship kept coming back. The final speaker,  Ross Jenkins, talked about new ways of measuring that followed the user over time and through different platforms. Alan K’necht and Anil Batra talked about tracking users from online activity through offline purchases.

The web is becoming less a place for anonymous one night stands and more a place for building relationships. This is true for link building as well.

And I think this is provides a tremendous challenge and opportunity. It’s very easy to fall into one of the following two modes:

  • Work by intuition and general ideas. Care deeply about building long term relationships, but without really working through all the measurements and analyses.
  • Focusing on hard facts and immediate action and results. Some peoples’ every instinct says “close the sale now, I don’t have time for your touchy-feely crap.”

People who can successfully measure and optimize delayed gratification and fulfillment are going to be rare and valuable. It’s really hard. Maybe if I buy my daughter enough Freakonomics type books she’ll develop a sufficient passion in this area to find tremendous professional success and satisfaction.

3. Don’t panic, stick to the basics

Larry Bailin said it best. When told that Personalized Search was supposed to send shock waves through the search community, Larry said “Everything sends shockwaves through the search community.” And yet, we should calm down and remember that the fundamental things apply.

Rob Garner and others kept getting back to this point as well. Yes, things are always exciting and always changing. George Will said that baseball is “not a game you can play with your teeth clenched” and the same is true with optimizing web sites for search. Rob mentioned that he goes to these conferences to check if his view of the search world coincides with other people’s, and he was happy to see that the consensus was that doing the basics well was becoming even more important. A blog post that says “X is the next Y-killer” will get all the links and all the attention, but don’t fall for the linkbait.

In Avinash’s opening keynote he said “Do the basics right” and then discussed the importance of “Aggregating Marginal Gains” to which he gave 2 definitions:

  1. There are a lot of small things you can do every day, that often bring in more than the big things.
  2. “Don’t suck.”

So yes, keep your finger on the pulse, and continue to adapt to new opportunities. But make sure you don’t take your eye off the ball when you do that. Great authoritative content, great relationships, love your loyalists, keep analyzing, and keep making things better. And don’t suck.

Bonus Takeaway: Social is Part of Something Bigger

A bunch of panelists, especially Rob Garner, discussed how we need to stop looking at Social Media as something separate, and understand that Social is now deep into the DNA of how people use the Web today. The Social Media sites have changed the Web’s norms, making relationships and conversations more important to the success of all web sites than ever before. Any Search strategy, for example, must take into account that you need to be building a network of relationships of people who will link to you, discuss you in their Twitter and Facebook streams, etc. This is doubly true for community generated content sites. Social is no longer “out there.” Relationship building must be a key part of everything you’re doing.

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