State of Search | An Eye-Opener For a First Time Speaker

Even a fender-bender did not take the shine off for Kirk Williams.

PPC Room at State of Search

The following is a guest post by Kirk Williams, who shares his experience as a first-time speaker at State of Search 2015 – we hope you enjoy!

Before State of Search, someone asked me “What do you think of when you think of Dallas?”

I was under the gun (a fitting analogy when speaking to a Texan, right??) so I spouted the first 4 things that came to mind: “Deion Sanders, the Cowboys, BBQ, and PPC friends on Twitter.”  
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Had I more time to think I would have said…

OK. In all honesty I probably would have stuck with those four. I don’t really know Dallas at all, and I’m not even really a football fan. I just remember growing up in Minnesota with this mindset carefully shaped on shirts and posters. Obviously those were pre-meme days. Remember these:

The Good: Vikings

The Bad: Packers

The Ugly: Cowboys

Of course, it’s not like the Vikings have that much to brag about…

Minnesota Vikings Meme

But I digress!

A few of my Dallas PPC friends encouraged me to pitch for a speaking spot at State of Search,  so I decided to take a swing at it. If anything, my hope was to get some good BBQ and hangout time with buddies. Lo and behold, I found myself chosen and on the way to the promised land of Dallas for the much-lauded event (I would have said, “God’s country” but we ALL know my state of Montana holds that title).
Now, here’s the rub. I’ve heard a lot of things about State of Search over the past year. A lot of good things. The problem with hearing a lot of good things? The bar gets set pretty high. The great danger lies in deep disappointment when the event fails to meet those high expectations. Like, when you finally watch The Christmas Story as an adult (guys, seriously, it’s not that funny), or that last episode of Lost.

A Christmas Story Meme

I have to admit, I did go into this event with pretty high expectations. I mean, I’m assuming you don’t land keynote speakers from the likes of Google, Bing, Moz, and Basecamp without doing something right.  

Keep in mind, State of Search is a local event. That is, an event staged by the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM). So it is primarily (possibly entirely?) established and managed by volunteers. So, to put it rather bluntly, one (not ME, of course) might anticipate having more of a, shall we say, “local volunteer” experience, rather than something to rival more well-known national conference experiences.

Well, props to the volunteer force of DFWSEM, because State of Search did deliver. It was overall just a fabulous experience for this newb conference speaker. From the rain ponchos to the standing desks at the back of session rooms, the minutest details were kept in mind.  

I was asked to jot down my thoughts (I generally never jot, preferring instead to blab). So here are the aspects of State of Search I enjoyed the most, in order of awesomeness. Also, I fully admit I’m not really a big partier, so the networking events may have made it higher on the scale for other attendees!

Speaker Quality

If one is going to a conference to hear speakers, one would be remiss in ignoring this topic. I spent most of my time in the PPC room, but enjoyed the keynotes as well. That is the mark of a good keynote, in my opinion: a speaker who can engage those in a different industry (let’s say, SEO to my PPC) and still keep their attention. I especially enjoyed Mig’s and Rand’s keynotes for this reason.
Actually, here’s what I learned from Rand and tweeted during his presentation:

One thought I have on the keynotes is that they skewed to SEO. I realize the inner workings of PPC account structure would be quite boring to the SEO’s in attendance, but perhaps a future keynote at a multi-channel conference like State of Search could involve things like CRO, or the relationship between paid and organic search.

Back to that PPC room. It was a virtual who’s who of #PPCChat experts, and I found myself learning quite a bit about Dynamic Remarketing and Excel in particular.

Free Espresso Bar

I almost put this as #1, but chickened out because I’m not supposed to go to a conference for the coffee… but it was close.

I love coffee and the in-house, free espresso bar was basically a PPC Nerd/Coffee Lover’s heaven. I wish every conference did this!

Attention to Detail

When the weather changed to threaten rain, the DFWSEM board bought ponchos.

Double-sided name badges showed the same thing on either side. No more fighting to flip it!

Tired of sitting all day? The standing desks in the back of the rooms were always full.

The speaker room was easily accessible, and a great place for clearing one’s head before a presentation.

No bothersome paper schedules to be thrown-away and forgotten, State of Search had it’s own app!
Even the water had fruit in it and thus, delicious!

I was quite impressed by the overall attention to detail from the staff. Obviously, this was not their first rodeo!

Admittedly, many of us had no wifi the first day, but word on the street is that was due to an attendee streaming/downloading gigs of data. However, the problem was quickly identified by staff and remedied for Day 2. I have a feeling it won’t be happening again!

Taken Meme

Networking

One significant value I find in conferences is the face-to-face communication with others in my industry. As an independent agency, this is especially valuable for me. It helps me discuss concepts and ask questions in a sustained and engaging way, rather than the more difficult means of educating through social media.

With the level of PPCers at State of Search, I found no lack of education and combined interest. Some of my favorite times were heading out to eat lunch with a crew and just talking and learning from each other. It is exceptionally fun to put a face and personality to a Twitter profile, and State of Search was no different.

Local Food/Drink/After-Party Scene

My one big regret from State of Search 2015 is that I did not participate in the live band karaoke during the after party. But for those who did, what a great time! The DFWSEM staff really outdid themselves with these after-party events as well and it seemed all who attended enjoyed them.

As far as location, Deep Ellum was quite impressive with its nearby lunch places, bars, and hangouts and was a great choice for the conference. Yes, I did finally get my BBQ, and yes it also lived up to expectations!

Deep Ellum State of Search Speaker Dinner

Ticket Price

I didn’t have to pay as a speaker, but now that I have attended, it really is hard to believe they have the conference priced where it is at.

I would say, for the length of time, food, events, and session quality, this is probably the best value conference I have yet heard of in digital marketing. Since I pay all my expenses out of pocket when I am not speaking, that’s a big deal!

Overall, clearly, I enjoyed State of Search, even though the trip started out with my first vehicle accident on the way to the airport (seriously, there were 5 open lanes, 0 other cars, 4:30am, and a taxi pulled into me on his red light… *facepalm*).

The DFWSEM team did a fabulous job, and I’m excited for what the future holds for them and for State of Search!