Any good business owner carefully monitors all company expenses. Business owners must make decisions on a daily basis of whether or not to "invest" (aka purchase) stuff for the business. This "stuff" can range from simple office supplies to marketing and all the way to sending staff to industry conferences.

Recently, here at Best Rank, we’ve been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to send ourselves and/or our employees to the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference in San Jose this month. I’m even thinking about attending the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) East event in October. Part of this decision process is to evaluate whether or not sending myself or an employee was really valuable to our company and could we see a positive return on investment (ROI) from this activity.

For those of you not aware of these conferences, I’ll tell you that they aren’t cheap. The admission cost alone, for a full-conference pass, is roughly $1795 (for SES) and $1195 (for SMX) if you purchase before a certain date, more if you procrastinate. Plus there’s the cost of travel, accommodations, and food. Oh…and let’s not forget the opportunity cost of attending a conference vs. doing your normal work routine; it’s inevitable that you will miss some work and either have to give it to someone else or let it slip and then catch-up later.

So, what’s the value of these conferences? Is it worth me spending ~$3000-4000 per attendee? If I send myself and 2 employees, can I make up the ~$10-12k in expenses?

Let’s look at the positive aspects of search marketing conferences for a minute. What kind of value can a search marketer get out of attending a conference?


    Networking with search marketing colleagues/peers and potential clients can be invaluable. You never know when you’re going to make the right connection at the right time. Not only do these events attract the most well-known professionals in our industry, but they also attract your more under-the-radar search marketers…who can prove to be very valuable connections. Rand Fishkin, over at SEOmoz, wrote a good post about the benefits of search marketing conferences. Check out what he has to say about Community Building, Meeting People, and Securing Relationships.

Learning the Tricks of the Trade

    We get so engulfed in our every day work that it’s tough to keep up with reading and continuing education. Going to a conference and attending educational sessions is a good way to force yourself to learn the latest and greatest. Some of the most useful tools and tricks that we currently use were gleaned from sessions we attended at last year’s SES events. Staying up to date with the latest trends, tips, tools, and tactics (the 4 T’s) will keep your business valuable and on the cutting edge of search.


    I normally take every opportunity that I can get to speak in front of an audience. While I haven’t had the opportunity to speak at a search marketing conference yet, I do know that speaking can be a significant boon to your business. Best Rank is regularly asked to speak at local business and networking events; every time that we speak we always get a fresh new set of hot leads to follow-up with. After every session at search marketing conferences I see the speakers getting swarmed by people. I imagine many of these people turn into quality leads. Speaking in front of a large audience automatically gives you credibility (deserved or not) in the eyes of the audience. They assume that, since you’re in front of a large group of people, you must be an expert…thus able to handle their project. I would encourage anyone to take advantage of speaking opportunities and of the assumptions that audience members make about you, the speaker.

So, how do all these positives translate into an ROI for my investment dollars? The real answer is that I don’t know. If I were to go to SMX East in October, and if I were to make one good connection (client), then I can justify spending the money. However, there is no guarantee that I will get a new client simply by attending this event. But, what about the educational aspects? If I go to this event and learn some great new tactics, that I turn around and apply to my client’s campaigns, then maybe my client’s site gets an extra boost in traffic and they decide to expand the campaign, thus more money in my pocket. I have to echo the same sentiment from Carsten Cumbrowski, who wrote a post about this topic over at Reve News (click here for the post). She states that:

"The single most important reason for me to attend real-life conferences is to do something that cannot be replaced by the best communication technology available: human interaction, meeting people face-to-face and getting to know strangers across different verticals that you would not have “bumped into” otherwise."

Carsten is right!! While I can’t directly tie an ROI to meeting people, it’s obvious that making the right connections at these conferences can significantly outweigh any direct costs involved in the effort. I’ve made connections at search conferences that are worth 5x more than I’ve paid to be there. Plus, I’ve implemented strategies that I’ve learned at search conferences into client campaigns; campaigns that I’ve gotten great results for and ultimately expanded. I’m probably not going to SES in San Jose this year…but I’ll most likely be at SMX East in October. Hopefully I’ll make some great connections and be able to positively impact my company’s bottom line. Happy conferencing!! Here’s another good article about the value of search conferences.


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Chris • 10 years ago

 Hi Matt,

Some really good stuff here for people considering attending an SEM conference.

Just wanted to let you know that the price for attending SMX is less than you’ve written above. Right now you can buy a ticket for $1195. If you send 3 people, the rate per person is $956 (20% off each). That includes all of the meals (breakfast, hot lunch, snacks), networking activities (receptions and parties) and of course the keynotes and Expo Hall.

There’s even a discounted rate on the hotel of $359/night, which isn’t inexpensive but the same room is selling this week on for more than $500.

You’re right about all of the other costs and time away from the office. Many find that the value outweighs the investment.

Thanks again for writing the piece. I hope to meet you at SMX East!


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Matt Walker • 10 years ago

Thanks for the correction, Chris. I’ve adjusted the post to reflect the accurate pricing. 

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