Last Friday I did something that I don’t normally do. Instead of getting my usual morning cup of coffee and heading into work later than I ought to, I caught the airport shuttle bus down the street, waded through Bangalore’s awful rush hour traffic (believe me when I say that it is BAD), made it through check-in, security and immigration and got on a 26 hour flight from Bangalore to New York. Am I a masochist who likes sharing a confined space with not one, but two crying babies for hours on end? No. I’m just a guy who really likes Search Marketing.

This past week, I attended SMX East, one of the world’s premier conferences on SEO and SEM. Other than providing us with the ideal excuse to travel to New York, the event gave me a unique opportunity to meet some amazing people from the Search Marketing World.

What I particularly loved about the conference was that it brought together people from companies of all shapes and sizes. I met everyone from a stand-up comic who was considering a career shift into the marketing world to product managers from tech behemoths like Google and Microsoft. Interacting with this diverse set of people was above all a great learning opportunity.

Here are my 5 biggest takeaways (in no particular order):

1. Bing Exists

It is undeniable that within the search space, Google is King. That said, the significant presence of Microsoft’s team at the conference pushed me to look more closely at what Bing has to offer, and I was pleasantly surprised. With low CPCs, neat features, like the ability to use LinkedIn data in Ad targeting, and not to mention some kick-ass swag, I am definitely keeping an eye on the Microsoft ad network as a place where business gets done.

2. There is a World beyond the West

Living in India it is easy to assume that Western search engines like Google, and Bing are the only companies of their sort. I found however, that there is a thriving world outside of the Western search ecosystem. After a fruitful conversation with the folks at Digital Crew, I realised that my outlook on Search Marketing was missing a coherent approach to Baidu ads.

3. The Agency Community is Welcoming AF

Don’t tell Marc Sirkin this, but I snuck into a meet up meant exclusively for people running, or working at marketing agencies. At the meet-up I heard agencies, big and small, trade stories, share concerns and offer advice to one another. My biggest takeaway from the session was that the marketing agency community is one of the most warm and welcoming communities which I have had the pleasure of interacting with. Seriously, even if they weren’t Tars’ prospective customers, I’d totally hang out with them.

4. Search Marketers know their Stuff

This might seem like an obvious point considering that I was at a conference which brought together search marketing experts, but if there is one thing I have learned from working in the chatbot space for the last few years it is that industry ”experts” are often full of shit. The Search Marketing world however is not like the chatbot space.

Whether I was fielding questions from co-attendees on the Expo floor, listening to CRO clinics, or talking to exhibitors, everyone had a deep understanding about what they were talking about. Just answering the rigorous questions which people had for me, has given me a deeper understanding about my own product.

5. The Post-Click Deficit

Whether you work on SEO or SEM, what your prospect sees after they click on your link is important. A bad post-click experience will necessarily kill your conversion rate. Search engines know this. It is the reason they use indicators like Quality Score to help rank pages. This is why I was surprised by the lack of emphasis on this aspect of Search marketing at the conference. Don’t get me wrong. Things like average ad position and ad-copy are super important, but past a few CRO clinics (which were awesome by the way) and the one booth dedicated to landing pages, there was little discussion about post-click user experience. It almost seems like past following a basic set of best practices and technical optimisations, the search world has forgotten how to innovate in the post-click experience department. In the past, we have likened this phenomena to Plato’s allegory of the cave. Search marketers and search engine execs alike mistake the ubiquity of traditional landing page design with validation that it is the one true way landing pages should look. Perhaps I am biased because I work on fixing this exact problem, but the minimal discussion on the topic was a bit odd, to say the least.

All things considered though, the conference was amazing. The welcoming nature of the search community meant that everyone I spoke to about the problem which I described above was open to talk. It was truly worth the 26 hour flight, and jet lag it took to get there. Search marketers are some of the greatest people you will meet, and I would highly recommend that anyone attend any of the SMX conferences next year.

Who knows? Perhaps Tars might even spring for an actual booth at some point in the near future.