Best and Worst Speakers at Webmaster World Las Vegas 2006

This is my first Webmaster World conference, and it’s been really great so far. I had pretty much given up on the some other conferences. Ad-tech and Search Engine Strategies just seem to be more about after parties and selling stuff than about educating people.

A couple years ago I discovered SXSW, which made me believe in the conferences again. It’s was exciting to see so many sessions about new technology, being lead by people who really knew their shit. And earlier this year I even had the pleasure of speaking at SXSW, which I was really excited about. I was actually on a panel with Eric Myers!
So far Webmaster World has been a great experience. The sessions have been for the most part very well put together and informative. One noted exception was the Contextual Advertising Optimization session with Google, Yahoo , Quigo and some other company on the panel. It was very “Ad-Tech† like with the sales pitch being wrapped as “information†. But then again, those were some of Ad-Tech’s big exhibiters.

I thought I would take a few minutes and list a few of my favorite, and least favorite speakers at WMW.

(These are not in any order)

Best Speakers at Webmaster World

†¢ Rand Fishkin – Many times I have look at SEOMoz wishing we had the time to put this type of blog out at USWeb. I have always been impressed with how much Rand understands not only about search, but about our industry. Rand is to me what Jason Fried is to development firms. I really respect him. And after seeing him speak, I was not disappointed. I’m going to be arrogant here and say that I know a lot more about search engine optimization than almost anyone on these panels. But Rand is not one of them. When a questions was given from the audience, he was the only one that had ideas that I hadn’t thought of. He is quick on his feet and is someone who walks the walk. Plus, he seems like a cool guy. If I weren’t so envious, I would have introduced myself.

†¢ Roger Montti – I had never heard of him before this session, but I was very impressed. This is a guy who has spent a lot of what is obviously considerable brainpower thinking about ways to get links. Once again, it’s rare that anything significant is going on in search that I’m not aware of. But he pointed out a couple link tips that I was pretty excited to tell people about after the session. Roger has gone to work with Best of the Web, and I think that’s a tremendous waste. I would have hired him in a heartbeat, and probably paid him a big more.

†¢ John Lessnau – I had seen his site Linkadage but I wasn’t that impressed with it. To be fair I didn’t spend much time there. But I hear there are actually some really cool tools there. But I was really impressed with John today at the session on purchasing links. He gave the people in that session some of the best paid link building tips I have ever seen anyone give out. If the people in that session go home and follow what he told them, they are going to be very happy campers in about 30 – 60 days. And John gets extra credit for not trying to pimp out his company while giving his presentation. I hope WMW brings him back next year, because he really made the trip worth the money in that one session.

†¢ Jennifer Slegg – I actually came across Jenn’s blog, about 2 weeks before the show. I was doing some research for a project and her blog popped up. If you are looking for the absolute expert in AdSense, this is your person. She has an amazing amount of knowledge and experience about contextual marketing, and she is not completely biased towards Google in her reporting of the industry. If the people in her session go home and implement her techniques, much like the people in John Lessnau’s session, they will be very happy campers in a month or two. I also give her extra credit for being the sole provider of good information in the contextual advertising session. All the other speakers were really more interested in explaining how their system works. Which was a bit silly considering the audience.

Worst Speakers at Webmaster World
(I link to them grudgingly for user experience)

†¢ Chris Boggs – Chris is the “Search Strategist† for Avenue A / Razorfish. I have had encounters with this company before, and I have to say that I was less than impressed with their knowledge of search. They bought aQuatitive (formally GoToast) a while back and entered the paid search marketing space. But they keep insisting that they also understand search engine optimisation. They don’t. Want proof? Check out their site. Any company that has Home in their title tag should automatically excuse themselves from speaking about SEO. And I certainly wouldn’t want the title of “Search Strategist† for that company. And Chris did that thing where he just reads bullet points from a PowerPoint. I hate that. And industry terms seemed unfamiliar to him. But, you can bet some genius at a huge company paid him and his team six figures to optimize their site. From a professional standpoint, I would rather go up against a dozen Chris Boggs’ than one Rand Fishkin.

†¢ Rae Hoffman – To be clear on this one, I am not questioning Rae’s knowledge of SEO, I’m sure she is very good at helping her clients. She seems like one of the consultants who genuinely cares about her clients, which is more rare than it should be in our industry. But, I do have some constructive criticism. The only thing worse than a guy like Chris reading bullet points from Powerpoint, is someone filling up almost every slide with text to the point where most the audience can’t really make it out. And then reading that text like a meth addict trying to explain a stolen car to the police. She talked so fast that I expected her sentences to end with her announcing “Sold!† and pounding a gavel. She might be new at public speaking, and this would be perfectly acceptable. I was a mess the first few times I had to speak. And she seemed much more comfortable in the QA portion of the next session I saw her in. Which is very much the way I am. I hate just standing there talking. I want to engage with the audience and answer questions so I know that they are getting something out of it. But, what isn’t excusable is how†¦I guess I’ll say aggressive (even though I think hostile and rude would be better), during the Site dev session. I have done a lot of those types of sessions, and they are my favorite. But Rae seemed to act like she was catching people doing something criminal every time she found something to improve. And she kept pointing out the same thing; the canonical issue. How this is a best practice issue, it wouldn’t’ be the first thing I would worry about for the sites she looked at. And it’s relatively low hanging fruit for this type of analysis. But it was the fact that she kept repeating it with every new analysis that was annoying.

†¢ Tom Pickett, Jay Sears, Yaron Galai, and Cody Simms – I’m going to lump these guys in together. They made up most of the panel for the Contextual Advertising Optimization session, and they sucked. They represent the players in the space, Google, ContextWeb, Quigo and Yahoo respectively. All they did was push out their products. I will give Tom and Cody a little latitude here, because they were talking about some cool products. Yaron and Jay just tried to sell us their service like we were supposed to provide funding. I don’t think either Yaron or Jay saying one thing that would be helpful to people currently using contextual ads on their site, except of course that they should use their product. Luckily the aforementioned Jennifer Slegg was the first speaker and providing nothing but pure interesting facts about how to optimize your campaign, which is what this session was supposed to be about.

Overall this has been a pretty good show. I think USWeb will exhibit at the next show, and I will certainly attend. If I could ever make the time, I would love to volunteer to talk on some panels. If you’re considering going to WMW, you should do it.


  1. Hey – Just to note that the organizers of the conference specifically intended for this panel to be an introduction to the various contextual solutions in the market, not a how-to workshop.
    I agree with your point though – this panel should probably be either changed or complemented with a more technical how-to type of panel focusing on contextual. I’ll chat with Brett about this for the next WMW.

  2. Ed: Sorry you did not like the prez! I was speaking about the company and how we do things because so many are still not familiar with us. But, I was also making the point that no one network can do the best job (make the most rev) for a publisher all the time (so run multiple), and the burden should be us us–the network–to optimize and drive performance.

  3. Hello Ed,

    I can’t say that I have ever heard of you, but I saw your post when I did a Technorati search. I am sorry that you did not enjoy my presentation. I have had a fair amount of experience speaking at SES and quite frankly was a little nervous about speaking for my first time at WMW. However, I did receive some good feedback.

    Just for the record, I know that our site is not optimized. We will work on that when we have a chance. It seems as if you have something personal against AA|RF from past experience. That is too bad, but I can tell you that this is one of the best SEO teams I have seen, from top to bottom. I have seen our results for very compettive fields. BTW, just for the record in case this makes it to print: your information about who we own/owns us is wrong, as well as the history you present.

    I hope to impress you more next time.


  4. So it looks like some of the people I think gave bad presenations decided to leave feedback.

    Yaron, I understand. I personally thought the title of the session “Contextual Advertising Optimization” was a good clue that this was about tweaks you could make to your contextual ad efforts to generate more revenue. But I understand that you were prepared for a different presentation.

    Jay, I get that you were trying to push your company out because it’s not as well known. I would just like to have seen more good inforamtion in general pushed out. I think the best way to become known in an industry is to push out the industry as a whole whenever possible.

    Chris, I’m sorry you haven’t heard of me. If you search for “search engine marketing firm” you can see more information about my company.

    As for optimizing your site. I do think it’s never a bad idea to eat your own dog food. And since your site has been up for a few years, the fact that it’s not optimized displayes either an inability to do so, or a lack of faith that search marketing is important. Also, since your firm is primarly known as a web development firm, you may also want to take care of the 5 coding errors on your website, including the lack of a doc type. But

    As for the ownership of the company; you’re right, I did get it mixed up. aQuantitive purchased Ave. A / Razorfish. For anyone interested, here is the link to the wikipedia page. Sorry for the mix up there.

    But despite my objections to your presenation, I do not have anything against your firm. How my run in’s with the firm have not impressed me, I certainly can’t say that I have really met your people on more than 2 occassions. So I’m sure there is a lot I don’t know about your team.

    But I do totally underatand being nervous. I hate doing these things myself.

    For everyone else, it’s not my attention to be an ass to these people. I paid to go to the confrence, and I thought that it was for the most part really great.

  5. After getting some feedback, both direct and through the blog, I took a look at Technorati to check a couple things. I really thought there would be a lot more coverage of WMW, and that my post would just be in the very large sea of opinionated bloggers. But I guess I’m one of the few to use names of certain people. This made me read over the post again, and I know realize that some of the posting seems mean spirited. That was not my intention.

    Public speaking is not an easy thing. On one of my first panels, I had to sit next to someone that I feel is the best speaker in our industry, and I know I bombed worst than anyone I mentioned in this post.

    So when you read this post, please keep in mind that I am stupidest when trying to be funny. I apologize for any hurt feelings I may have caused. And I want to add a couple things.

    1. USWeb has never been called to clean up a mess from Ave. A after an official SEO engagement.

    2. I don’t know Chris Boggs and cannot address his personal knowledge of SEO. I was just going over what I can see from their site.

    3. Rae Hoffman was very funny in her sessions and added personality to what is sometimes very dull material for people. How I think she may have been a bit harsh, people did genuinely get good advice from her session, and if they follow if will see some results.

    If you’re still angry at me after my apology, feel free to call me some names here.

  6. As promised, I’m talking with Brett about tweaking the format of the contextual panel from a vendor session to a how-to workshop. See below. Ed – thanks for the feedback.

    > —–Original Message—–
    > From: Yaron Galai [mailto:——-]
    > Sent: Monday, November 20, 2006 11:23 AM
    > To: Brett Tabke
    > Subject: RE: PubCon Vegas – Thank You!
    > Bret –

    > Thanks for having me, and for the invite for next year. I’ll
    > happily participate, though I think we should consider
    > changing this panel into more of a ‘how-to’ oriented panel,
    > rather than a solution introduction panel. I just think it’ll
    > be more useful for the audience then the vendor pitching
    > we’re basically doing today.
    > In that scenario, I think it might make more sense to have
    > folks like Jenstar speak on best practices, etc. Again – I’m
    > more than happy to participate in the next PubCons, but if
    > you decide to cut us and do what I proposed above I’ll
    > perfectly understand that.

    > Yaron

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