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Why I Stopped Going to SEO Conferences and Go to SXSW Instead

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This year I decided not to attend any SEO conferences so I could attend SXSW a second time.

I made no direct sales from attending last year and will likely have no sales from the event this year. But I will be buying a ticket for next year as soon as they go on sale…

Why?

SXSW-Badge

Here are my five reasons.

1. SXSW is Not Industry Specific

SXSW is Not Industry Specific

In my younger, naïve years I used to think that conferences were all about sharing information with peers similar to academic seminars/symposiums.
Later I realised that most speakers and attendees were at SEO events to sell more stuff. There is certainly nothing wrong with that but being in a room full of your competitors and potential clients means that there is a tendency not to share as much as you would in a more comfortable environment.
If you, like me, have attended several SEO events every year, you will agree with me that it’s hard to find presentations on anything groundbreaking.
SXSW is very different because it brings people from all different creative industries, from filmmakers to start-up founders. Most people I met didn’t have much interest in the world of SEO! This combination of individuals from many different sectors means that the atmosphere is far less competitive, and people are comfortable to share everything about their industry.

2. Thousands of Attendees Coming From So Many Different Backgrounds

SXSW-attendees

The SEO industry in the UK is a tight-knit group, and you quickly get to see the same old faces. Don’t get me wrong; there are some great people but I certainly will end up speaking to the same people, and so there is a limit to the possibility of coming across new ideas.
At SXSW, you meet people from all over the world, coming from totally unexpected places.
We met Doug at a meditation meetup, who runs the IT security at Rutgers University. He was a speaker and his talk on IT security was a highlight of the event, and something neither me nor Gisele would ever think of attending. Cyber security is becoming a big topic across the world and is a growing problem, so connecting with someone like Doug and learning from an expert rather than blog posts is priceless when the time comes to creating content in this space.
We also met Rob, who manages the marketing at an Animal Shelter in Santa Fe. Rob was attending SXSW for the first time, and he kindly invited us to visit the shelter and see how they work. Coincidentally, we had planned to visit Santa Fe after the event, so we took him up on a full tour of the shelter.

As a major dog lover, this was a real highlight of our entire trip, but it was also powerful to see how digital marketing can have such a significant result. After our meeting with Rob, we decided that we would show him what the NeoMam team can do to support a non-profit so watch this space for a doggy themed infographic in the next few months.


Both Rob and Doug are very different and from very different areas of the United States. Meeting them and building close relationships were just as powerful as some of the talks we attended.
It’s not to say you can’t get this at SEO/Content Marketing conferences but at SXSW we are not trying to sell/compete/hire, so all those other standard business practices that get in the way of building real relationships are dramatically reduced.

3. The Breadth and Quality of Speakers

 

SXSW-jonahAs someone who has spoken at many conferences, I can totally relate when people complain about seeing the same old faces at events – rumour has it that Pubcon Vegas still has speakers who have been speaking every year since 2004. SEO is important but in the grand scheme of things, our industry is small and there is a finite number of speakers at even the biggest conferences.
Let’s compare with SXSW.

Day one I saw Jonah Berger who wrote the awesome Contagious followed by the director of Google Self-driving Car, Chris Urmson. After lunch we saw Barack Obama talk about how tech can help society and we closed the day with the Winklevoss twins discussing the future of Bitcoin. I know a lot of people in the SEO world like to get pictures with Rand Fishkin, but we saw the President of the United States!


 

The above line-up was just one day of a 5-day event, and there were 100 other talks that we didn’t attend. The sheer size and mix of SXSW mean it gets speakers that wouldn’t dream of doing single industry events.

5. Be Inspired Every Day

Obama-sxsw

At my first SEO conference I met Lyndon Antcliff and Will Critchlow, and they inspired me to work for myself a few years down the line. I have also been inspired by the many agency owners I have met but after eight years it gets harder to be truly inspired. It can sometimes feel like we are all saying and doing the same stuff.
 
At SXSW, from day one you meet and engage with truly inspiring speakers, from billionaires to people making the world a better place. It certainly is very humbling and a powerful way to see your business as part of the wider world, outside of SEO.
 

6. SXSW is Hosted in Austin and Austin is Great

Austin-food

Austin is a great city, and you can even meet Paul May from Buzzstream, who has an impressive office in downtown. Unlike the rest of Texas, Austin is a liberal town and there is a great mix of different people – and the food is awesome!


I hope this blog post doesn’t come across as saying that SEO/Content Marketing events are not useful because they are: you will win a lot more business and they are helpful in building confidence, especially if you’re new to the industry. But if you have been in the industry a while and are looking to get a pulse on the wider creative world, then SXSW should be at the top of your list. We met a lot of people from big advertising agencies over there but the conference needs more people from SEO, there were five people at the last meet up over there!

Let me know if you plan to attend next year so we can connect and pass on what knowledge we have learnt on how to get the most from the event.
P.S: You will still see me at some SEO/Content Marketing Events if I am asked to speak as I still need new clients as much the next agency owner 😛

 

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5 comments

  • Dorothy Vickers April 29, 2016   Reply →

    Thank you as individuals and team. I am very impressed with the last picture of the lights in a dark Europe. Maybe that is a background ideation and you should keep a design catalogue specific to the underlying content disclosure your Clients HAVE IN MIND.

    Best wishes

    Dorothy Vickers – cleopc@yahoo.com situated at Nottingham.

  • Ashley Faulkes May 4, 2016   Reply →

    RIght on Danny, that is where we met bro! Never had such a great time as at SXSW.

    I think I have to come next year, so pencil it in.

    INdustry confs are also fun, but as you say it aint the same :>

  • Jason Feemster May 18, 2016   Reply →

    I’m based in Santa Fe and have never been to SXSW, but I like your idea. I can’t agree more about SEO conferences, usually a giant pitch fest. Great to see your support with the Santa Fe animal shelter. Cheers!

  • Danny Ashton May 19, 2016   Reply →

    Hi Jason, Glad to meet another Santa Fe’er. You guys have an awesome city. We have started working on the animal shelter project and are currently coming up with ideas, so should go live in a month or so . Thanks for the comment and be sure to come to SXSW next year.

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