Why we attend conferences

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I've always loved traveling. Okay, not the flights so much, especially given that I typically travel coach (yes, even for work trips). But getting to learn interesting cultural tidbits, enjoy regional cuisines, and meet new people... it all definitely makes my life richer. Even the little things—linguistic differences ("How are you going?" in Sydney) and just walking around (pass on the left in the UK!)—can be fascinating.

So I shouldn't be surprised when my friends tease me about my traveling as a representative of Google's Search Quality team: "Must be really rough!" However, being an active part of conferences actually isn't all glamour and relaxation.

Here's a glimpse of the reality:

  • Sometimes (though thankfully rarely) I get metaphorically used as a human punching bag.
  • There's no pause button on my corp and personal e-mail accounts. Days at conferences = LOTS of email to catch up on!
  • And on a related note, what's with the no-wifi nonsense?! I have Verizon broadband [sic] for my laptop now, but still... ack!
  • Attending conferences requires an enormous amount of extra time overall. I stubbornly seem to create presentations fresh for each conference, I collaborate with other Googler speakers on their presentations (and vice versa), and I end up with a ton of additional (valuable but time-intense) work from info I glean at the conferences. Based on this and the e-mail reason noted above, I've noticed that each day of conference = five days of combined prep + analysis + implementation.

But here's why I still really like going to conferences:

  • I learn a bunch from other speakers. When folks from other search engines or various experts speak, I often think—hey, that's useful information, or that's a particularly thoughtful way of explaining stuff. I'm still pretty new to the conference-speaking circuit, so every bit I soak up helps!
  • SEO and webmaster folks are typically rather fun people. :-)
  • Though I don't always make time for this, it's certainly neat getting to spend some time exploring various cities. Okay, so San Jose doesn't count (it's right next to Google), but I can't wait to check out Toronto (and, likely via a few personal days beforehand, Montreal).
  • I learn a great deal from webmasters I chat with. I'm able to go back to my colleagues here and say - hey, this is how our algorithm changes or our guidelines are being perceived, these are challenges we didn't anticipate from our tools, and so on. And it's not just about search; I've gotten thoughtful earfuls about Gmail, Calendar, and practically everything else about Google, and I do my best to relay this feedback to my colleagues in other departments.
  • Lastly, seeing someone in person provides a very helpful new perspective on what they're meaning to communicate online. It's easy to misread text on a page, especially when there's no immediate opportunity to follow up with questions. But in person, issues get cleared up on both sides, and that's good for everyone.

Thankfully, it's not just me who's presenting to and chatting with webmasters from Google—I'd be exhausted, and you'd get quite bored of me. As you can see from the list below, our conference-going is genuinely a team effort: Through this month and June, you'll find Google Search Quality and Webmaster Central folks present at these conferences:

Search Engine Strategies - Xiamen, China - May 25, 26-30

  • Jianfei Zhu (Senior Software Engineer): Get a Lesson from Spamming; Search Engine Strategies - Milan, Italy - May 29-30
  • Brian White (Technical Program Manager)
  • Luisella Mazza (Search Quality Analyst)
  • Stefano Bezze (Search Quality Associate)

American Marketing Association Hot Topics Series - New York, NY - May 25

  • Maile Ohye (Senior Developer Support Engineer): Search Engine Marketing

Google Developer Day - San Jose, CA (was originally set for Mountain View) - May 31

  • Jonathan Simon (Webmaster Trends Analyst)
  • Maile Ohye (Senior Developer Support Engineer)

Search Marketing Expo Advanced - Seattle, WA - June 4-5

  • Matt Cutts (Software Engineer): You, Personalized Search and Penalty Box
  • Vanessa Fox (Product Manager, Webmaster Central): Duplicate Content

Search Engine Strategies - Toronto, Canada - June 12-13

  • Adam Lasnik: Search Engine Friendly Design and The Worst SEO Myths, Don'ts, and Scams

Searchnomics - Santa Clara, CA - June 27

  • Shashi Thakur (Software Engineer): Search Engine Friendly Design
  • Greg Grothaus (Software Engineer): Search and Dynamic Web Sites and SEO for Web 2.0

We look forward to seeing many of you in person! But even if you can't or don't want to go to one of the conferences we attend, we welcome your questions, comments, or even just a friendly introduction in our Webmaster Help Group.

Take care, and enjoy your summer, wherever your online or offline travels may take you!