Life itself is a fragile series of events. Any small difference in choice can lead to a specific destiny unraveling altogether. I can reference a slew of bad sci-fi films here that butcher this concept like The Butterfly Effect or Next but the main idea is that one choice in 2011 has changed the trajectory of my career, enlarged my circle of friends and enriched my life in general. That choice was attending SEOmoz's MozCon in July 2011.
My apologies for the lateness of this post; it is long overdue but so much great stuff has happened and I really want to document it.
I'd wanted to go to MozCon since I'd heard it was announced. I inquired about it almost as soon as I'd started at Publicis Modem in April of 2011. After months of being given the run around from a couple of SVPs I asked the CFO myself after I'd just saved the company a bunch of money by switching Rankings platforms. Of course he said no. I'd just written a popular post on SEOmoz so I decided I absolutely had to be there! So after mulling it over for a while and realizing I’ve spent way more money on far dumber things I reached into my own pocket and paid for the flight and cost to attend the conference. It was easily the best investment I’d made all year.
Best SEO Conference of the Year
Although I’d been doing SEO for 5 years MozCon was my first SEO conference. Honestly I will be spoiled for the rest of my conference attendance career because it was an absolutely remarkable experience! From when I landed the Moz team was very inviting. I hung out at the office and caught up with my old friend Jamie Steven. Jamie and I worked together at Microsoft in 1995 as high school interns. We were featured in Microsoft's internal publication "Micronews" for building a hub for all the intern websites creatively entitled “InternWEB”. He and I fell out of touch over the years and reconnected once I started posting at YouMoz. While Jamie and I had a couple beers in the office and talked about the years since we last saw each other Rand popped into the conference room to say “what's up.” After that I got to meet awesome members of the marketing team like Andrew Dumont, Joanna Lord and Lauren Stigerts before I would disappear into the day with John Doherty, Gianluca Fiorelli and Ben Wills from Ontolo. This would be the theme for the weekend, I would meet tons of awesome new people or people that I had been interacting with online but hadn't met in real life yet.
One more thing worth noting…my first interaction ever with the SEOmoz team was in 2010 during the webinar where Rand had a bottle of Grey Goose on his face to counteract the pain of having his wisdom teeth extracted. I cheekily asked if Joanna would be down to send me and my then Razorfish team some Moz shirts and she hooked me up! So it was cool to finally meet her in person and we snapped this flick:
That night I made connections with people that I now communicate with almost every day including Philadelphia’s godfather of Search Wil Reynolds and Mark Lavoritano from Seer Interactive. The King of Link Building Justin Briggs who I excitedly gave a preview of my "Throw Away Your Form Letters" post after he showed me his tattoo of the Hyrulian Crest. The team from OneClick Ventures in Indy, Local SEO genius Darren Shaw from Whitespark and Analytics mastermind Adrian Vender from Cardinal Path. It was a great time getting to know so many smart people and it really brought the concept of the SEO community to life for me. Honestly I had been in Seattle for less than 12 hours and I’d already gotten my money’s worth.
The Sessions Were Incredible
I was absolutely floored by the depth of knowledge and creative approaches people were showcasing. I had my mind blown several times every day and a lot of these guys stretched the limits of what I thought was possible. Almost every talk featured a highlight that helped reshape my perspective on some aspect of digital strategy and I would ultimately head back to work with a ton of ammunition to better make my cases. The key thing that I took away from a speaker like Bob Rains was that it's very much okay to be yourself in the Search community. In a lot of ways I wasn't just learning new strategies and tactics from these speakers I was also learning a lot about how to present these ideas. It was MozCon that prepared me to do well at all the speaking slots I’ve gotten.
It is not my intention to short change anyone’s talks as they were all varying levels of awesome but this is what I remember specifically…
Joanna Lord helped me realize how powerful retargeting is, Richard Baxter blew my mind with his excel plugin for the Adwords API, Jamie is the reason why I say that “Tightly kerned Helvetica bold is the hipster scarf of branding” and why I changed my approach to digital brand strategy. Stefan Weitz helped me realize that the goal of the Search Engines is to make the web object-oriented just as is seen in modern programming languages; as a developer, those were awesome insights that help me understand why Schema.org is important. Melanie Mitchell changed my perspective about Paid Search. Before her talk I felt the same way most SEOs do about Paid Search but her data and insights helped me better sell Integrated Search to clients and get on the same page as our agency partners. In fact I interviewed for a job at Roundarch before I took the role at Publicis Modem and they told me I was too junior because I didn’t do Paid Search. I still think that is completely silly but Melanie’s talk encouraged me to learn Paid Search and I’m about to take the Adwords Certification test in the next week or so.
Wil Reynolds was show-stopping for me. The Twitter/OSE link building method that he dropped completely changed my approaches. That talk is what encouraged me to delve deeper into the ideas of using social media in various ways for link building. Kristy Bolsinger is why I called Google+ “a third sock” and showed how to uncover influencers in Social. Stephen Pavlovich galvanized everything I thought I knew about Conversion Rate Optimization and then made me realize I needed to hit the books. Then Alex Schultz from Facebook had us all completely captivated with no slides -- just a giant Facebook logo. Even now I aspire to that level of capturing people’s attention.
Adam Audette came out swinging and showing us how we’re all doing E-comm SEO wrong. Unfortunately I haven’t had any e-comm clients since I left Razorfish but he had some awesome stuff I’d still like to put to the test. Then Martin Macdonald blew everyone’s minds. I still don’t think we’re at liberty to talk about what he did but what he showed us that day almost made up for the fact that he said I looked like 50 Cent. Then THE Kate Morris (inside joke) came out and gave us an awesome systematic approach to creating great content. Afterwards Avinash Kaushik came out and showed why he is a living legend while telling SEOs to grow up on the analytics side of things.
Mixcloud’s Mat Clayton would arguably make the biggest impression on me with his Social Design presentation. It was this presentation that would lead to my Keyword-Level Demographics methodology. Suffice to say I walked out of the MozCon sessions significantly more knowledgeable than I walked into them.
Oh yeah and one more thing. Cyrus Shepard is a great host!
Where do I even start? I played ball with Will Critchlow and Mark Lavoritano. I had shots with Justin Briggs and the One Click team. I rocked a Jay Z track at karaoke. I kicked Dave Minchala’s ass in Street Fighter. I played pool with the Moz team. Had drunked conversations with lots of people that I don’t quite remember but make me recall them very fondly. I had drinks with the Unbounce team. All the while convincing people to vote for me in the Unbounce Blogging contest. I met some of the Slingshot team. I can’t remember everything we did. I do know there was a lot of drinking.
I had the chance to mix and mingle with a lot of the Inbound Marketing elite and these types of connections are obviously invaluable. For example, Melanie Mitchell who is also employed at Publicis Groupe agency has been very helpful when I’ve had some cross-agency issues. Darren Shaw was helpful when I needed some cutting edge insights on local search and I’ve also had the opportunity to help out a lot of people that I’ve met at MozCon with tools and insights from things that I’ve been doing. Meeting those people led to me meeting more people once I got home like Rhea Drysdale and Ross Hudgens.
Also during MozCon Wil Reynolds was the first person to declare that I was worth watching and following. Again, this in and of itself made it all worthwhile.
I Was Inspired
I think it was midway through Wil Reynolds’ talk I said to myself, “I want to do this.” Before attending MozCon speaking at a conference was such an unknown because I wasn’t sure I’d fit in or where to start. I didn’t understand that these conferences are about sharing your best ideas, best work and building off of the community until you come to new things. John Doherty and I sat next to each other every day at the conference and one of the 3 days we both worked up the nerve to pitch for SMX East. We both got accepted. I also wanted to be more involved with the Moz team and shortly after I got home I became a Moz Associate.
Taking what I learned at MozCon and the persona-based approaches that we were already working on at Modem I came up with some new stuff that we started putting into place and thus Keyword-Level Demographics was born. I was incredibly excited to speak at SMX and became so engrossed in my presentation. This is what my whiteboard looked like for weeks and I excitedly spoke about it to anyone that came by my office about the methodology; which is why there is a long list of thank yous at the end of my deck.
Once I had a deck it lived on the wall of my apartment for weeks. I practiced it like I practice my rhymes.
Then the day finally came and I had a blast. My deck was on the front page of Slideshare and people like Danny Sullivan, Lisa Barone and Rhea Drysdale said I did great! A lot of my new friends were in attendance and it was great to finally get the chance to show off something I came up with that I believe is game-changing.
SMX East would lead to two very incredible things.
- The next day Tom Critchlow hit me up on Gchat:Tom: yo
you killed it at smx
me: thanks man
Tom: wanna speak at searchlove NYC?
me: YES!Honestly, my mind was absolutely blown when this happened.
- I met the woman who would ultimately become my girlfriend.She already gets enough flack for being the SEO Account Director with the “hotshot SEO boyfriend” so I’m not gonna put her on blast too much here. Let me just say my girlfriend is awesome and the point here is that had I not taken the leap to invest in MozCon I would not have pitched for SMX East and she and I would not have met. Beyond my career my life would be vastly different right now.
So here I am after being a part of the Search community for 6 months (again I’ve been doing SEO since 2006) having to speak in a roster with the best of the best. People like Rand, Rhea, Wil, Tom, Will, Mat, Rob Ousbey, Graywolf, Noah Kagan, etc. Honestly I was 20% terrified and 80% excited out of my mind. My main goals were to wake people up after a night full of Halloween partying and not to get blown away by the lineup too bad. Turns out I accomplished both goals so I was happy.
I easily could write a whole post like this about the SearchLove experience. I made a lot of new friends and contacts from the sessions and parties. Sadly I couldn’t enjoy the Halloween party as much as I’d have liked to because I had to finish my presentation.
Speaking at SearchLove led to…
…tons of things actually. Everyday I wake up to an awesome email from somebody wanting to do something cool or just reaching out to me to share insights and such. I absolutely love checking my email in the morning now. SearchLove did a lot for my personal brand and most of all my confidence to at least hold my own amongst the Inbound Marketing elite in the speaking arena. At first I was scared of what people might come up with to ask me in Q&A but during SearchLove I realized that it’s ok to admit I don’t know everything because I’m friends with the people that know what I don’t know. Since then I’ve spoken at SEO Grail, Seattle Interactive, Geek-end, SEMNE and SMX Israel. So far for 2012 I’m on the lineup for SMX West, LinkLove London and SES New York. Even now I’m working on some new stuff to ship for all of those talks. So I guess what I’m saying is SearchLove led me to want to continue to step my game up as a speaker and as a marketing technologist.
Thank You SEOmoz
I can’t say enough about the great opportunities that being a part of the SEOmoz community has afforded me, the awesome people it has introduced me to and the incredible experiences that have come in such a short time. I appreciate the entire SEO community for everything they have shared with me. Everybody from the agency people I’ve worked with to the people I’ve met through the SMX camp and the smaller places where I’ve given talks. However I especially must give a thank you to SEOmoz for their incredible team and community. Because of them I walked into MozCon a great SEO and walked out a thought leader.
For the record no one asked me to write this post. Again, I just wanted to document my own experience. I’m not here to convince you to go to MozCon 2012. All I’m saying is I personally will never miss another one. Especially because next time Jen Lopez will be there! :]
I can't wait to see what 2012 will bring.
p.s. I'm pretty sure at least most of these pictures were shot by the Rudy Lopez from Curb Appeal Photo.