What I liked at SearchCamp?

First, it requires a great vision to create such path-breaking events  and the Knowledge Foundation deserves all accolades.

Secondly, I think the organizers pulled it off within a very short time and hats off to them for their spirit of action.

Thirdly, when just a pizza at a medium- premium restaurant costs about Rs.500, it is really unbelievable that we get to listen to two days of substance in an excellent location, ambiance, with breakfast, lunch and tea for that amount!  I want to profusely thank the organizers for their big heart that made it possible for many people to attend without stretching their wallets and pockets!

The facility for live-blogging was incredible.  I remember trying to live blog an event at Le Meridien where I miserably failed after trying for almost two hours because nobody in the venue had a clue (or possibly didn’t want to provide that facility without any charge)

The bonhomie atmosphere that was present all through the event, even when the impact of the curd rice was max!! There was lot of humour and most of it was subtle.

No undue leverage for the sponsors in the presentation slots.  In fact, guys like Ram of findnearyou.com were conspicously absent at the podium.

its now 1 am and i’m getting sleepy.  When I’m fresh in the morning, i will post more on this if i have some relevant points.

Kiruba, Syed, Sukumar, Durga and all other people who made this possible! a really BIG thanks from all of us!!

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Timeouts for questions and answers??

I had mentioned this in passing in my earlier post, but felt that i must devote an entire post for this aspect which I found highly disturbing.

Someone said ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’ and some of us have heard about KISS (Keep It Simple and Short) but it appears that there are many people who have not done so.  And it so happened that many of those people actually asked the questions at various points of the SearchCamp and what was even more tragic was the lengthy and winded responses that sometimes missed the questions by miles!!

My intention is not to point fingers at any individual(s) but to highlight the huge wastage of time of the entire audience listening to sentences without a comma or a full stop.

In the interest of the event and of the larger community, we must ruthlessly enforce time limits for each question as well as for each answer. If a question cannot be asked within a minute, it doesn’t deserve to be answered and likewise if a person cannot adequately answer within 2 minutes, then he is clearly stalling.  I must credit Kiruba for doing it occassionally but on those rare instances, some genuine guys got cut out while the real culprits escaped scot free!

And if nobody is willing to take that responsibility of enforcing timings, then the collective wisdom of the crowd needs to do it so that time is not wasted to pamper self-egos and inflated discourses.

I remember an event organized by MMA (Madras Management Association) wherein our former Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan presided.  He did not allow any question that was vague or pompous or lengthy and quickly cut the person and the query mercilessly to size.

We need the likes of TN Seshan for the future events organized by the Knowledge Foundation.

Any crisp responses?

For spirited Panel Presentations!

It seemed a pity that the organizers had to use the same theme of outsourcing vs in-house for the Panel presentations on both the days, with just a slight difference!  We heard some actual customers voicing their reservations about outsourcing on the second day whereas on day one the verdict was out even before the panel started with the lone person talking about in-house being an outsourcer himself!

Atleast on the second day, we could have had the panel consisting of four clients, two who have outsourced and two who have kept their SEM operations in-house and that could have been more lively and relevant, rather than asking the same persons to say almost the same things on both the days.

I distinctly remember an inspired and evenly balanced discussion of Wiki vs Blogging at the Wikicamp, not very long ago! With such a gathering of SEO and SEM professionals, perhaps a better Panel Topic could have been “Which mode, SEO or SEM, creates sustained value for the Clients?” . 

Another topic that could have livened up the atmosphere was “Will Google continue to dominate the Search business by 2012? If so why and if not, who will be the new Emperor”?

Yet another topic that comes  to my mind is ” Will CPC give way to a newer and more advertiser-friendly model or will it hold?”

My intentions of writing these seemingly negative posts about the SearchCamp are only to make future editions that much more valuable to all concerned.  I’m confident that the Knowledge Foundation will do well to pay heed to the feedback and take action.

I’m also seeking active comments from the other participants and create a lively debate that could serve as a cauldron of ideas for the future versions.

Three Cheers to the Knowledge Foundation for taking the initiative and bringing SearchCamp to India and to Chennai.

PPC vs PPA

First it was pay for impressions and then Google came up with an innovative and revolutionary model of Pay Per Click.  I’m no historian but my guess is that the online advertising industry quickly embraced this model and made it almost defacto.

At the SearchCamp, some of the presenters were making a case for Pay Per Conversion or Pay Per Acquisition and some like Pinstorm said that all their contracts were based on results. All that sounds nice but this PPA would only relate to the Agency fees while the inventory would continue to be PPC whether to Google or Yahoo or MSN.  Certainly it puts a  constructive pressure on the Agency to perform and its really commendable on the part of Agencies to make PPA as their holy grail.

But having said that there is bound to be substantial inefficiency at the publisher’s end in terms of escalating cost of key words, undetected or unproven click fraud as well as poorly designed landing pages on the part of the clients just to name a few.

It would be quite interesting to know how the agencies that base their revenue on a PPA model would drive efficiency on the entire ecosystem and make a strong case for total outsourcing.

Mahesh! Would you like to start the debate?

A Futures Exchange for Key Words!!!

Whilst at the First day of the SearchCamp, I observed that most of the speakers were talking about the volatility of the bids for the key words and that set me thinking.

We see the same situation in prices of agricultural and oil commodities, foreign exchange and share prices and the way the uncertainty is managed is by the instrument of Futures wherein a customer pays a small premium for a future price of a share (for example) and has the option to buy it or not to buy it on that particular date.

Likewise, an agency or a client like myself can hedge the risk of the price of keywords relevant to me going up, by bidding a particular amount for a keyword say “loans” at Rs.35 (purely fictitious example, so please do not tear me up) on 1st Jan 2008 and pay a small premium for the same. If the price of ‘loans’ on that day is Rs.50, then I have saved Rs.15 per usage and if it has dropped to Rs.25 then i just forego the premium and carry on with my job. This will make bidding and media buying less hassled and help agencies and clients plan their campaigns with more control and effectiveness!!

Alternatively, we can prepay and take delivery 1 million units of a particular keyword at a certain price (lower than today’s price, for sure) and hedge the risk of the price going up in the future.

Are MCX and Google listening?

For future SearchCamps

From my limited experience with the recently  concluded SearchCamp in Chennai, I observed that the majority of the participants were from the SEO and SEM(or rather Search) industry and few of us were clients or potential clients.

Given this wide gap between the participant profile and also to create higher level of awareness about Search Marketing, I suggest that we can have one day for the SE Professionals which will, in a focussed manner address issues facing the industry and sharing of best practices.  We can also have strictly one minute slots for any guy (like it was done at proto) who wants to make an elevator speech to attract quality employees and that can trigger networking in an offline mode as well.

The other day could be devoted to addressing the concerns and issues of clients and have presentations like the ones made by Ratan, Prasana and Saravanan with lot of time for user interaction etc.

We could also have many speakers and professionals including the people from the Search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN etc sharing their expertise rather than just a limited few going up to the podium quite often.

This will bring sharpness to the entire event and also give maximum value for the participants.

Kiruba, Syed and other folks at Knowledge Foundation!  You have always listened to inputs and also acted on them!  Will you do an encore with this as well!!

A much better day

I was quite reluctant to attend the second day of SearchCamp but hope and optimism took over. Although i reached the venue only at 9:30 am, the day’s proceedings had just begun. And unlike the first day (where breakfast was just a sandwich), I was greeted by really sumptous pongal and vadai.

Couple of sessions were lively and also quite relevant (atleast for me) with Ratan of Pinstorm leading the way with an elaborate brief (a real oxymoron??) about brief!!!. Atlast someone was talking about a campaign and about the client. And then Vikram (of Efficient Frontier, the self-styled ‘largest SEM company in the world) launched into an exposition about algorithms, their need and complexity. I thought he started well but slowly thanks also to Rajeev Bala’s questions (which showed the audience that he knew all the jargons but nothing more) it became technical and abruptly ended.

The session that followed (again from Pinstorm) was jargon-filled and was also argumentative that required frequent interventions from Ratan of Pinstorm.

Perhaps the best session(s) of the day were short but really sweet on PPC Campaigns from Prasanna of eBrandz and Saravanan of ilink systems. Both spoke clearly and the language of the clients while offering meaningful and implementable suggestions to make Campaigns effective. Alas, the timing enforcement was strict only on those sessions.

Thanks to the curd rice, the post lunch sessions were clearly OHP until Kiruba called for a Q&A in which most questions was pointedly anti-Google practices and the responses from Google were also quiet muted. This was followed by yet another panel presentation on whether to outsource SEM or not and it was time to leave.

My biggest take-away for the day was finding a few professionals who were talking sense (for a change) and also offered some inputs for making my proposed campaigns powerful.

While Pinstorm might be a leading firm in the area of Search, it appeared excessive that three presentation slots plus one panel presentation slot were allotted to members of Pinstorm. Likewise, Vikram and Vivek participated in a panel as well as presented and Rajesh Sule figured in both panels. Either there is a real dearth of qualified professionals or the organizers were not able to get more people to share their experiences and expertise!!

It was also pathetic to watch a couple of participants hijacking the sessions with long winding or pompous questions and also getting away with it every time.

Hopefully SearchCamp 2.0 will address these issues and also clearly define the target audience for the event to generate maximum value for the participants.

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