It has been some time since I've attended a Search Engine Strategies conference, (mainly just because of our own busy training event schedule) but with Chris Sherman's Search Engine Strategy conference being conducted in Toronto on May 4, I managed to put some time aside to attend. As our readers may know, both Robin Nobles and I used to attend these conferences more often and Robin would often be speaking on a panel at these events too. As we have grown busier and busier, we just have not had the time to attend these events the way we used to. However, my recent visit to the Toronto SES conference on May 4 proved to remind me of how much fun these conferences are as well as very nice networking opportunities to meet people and pick up news from the search engines themselves.

May 4, Toronto Ontario Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Center was a little smaller conference than say the one in New York, but enjoyable all the same. Presentations of the day ranged from between fair to highly satisfactory and it was a pleasure to walk around visiting the various exhibitors.

Registration was nicely set up, where you walk in to the counter and pick up your pre-registration passes. I was handed a traditional goody bag with conference materials which included a very nice workbook outlining the day's activities. I can remember in the early days getting hand outs, but the workbook was a nice touch.

First Session: Cleaning Up Spam

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Associate Editor of

Shari Thurow, GrantasticDesigns
Anne Kennedy, Beyond Ink
Mathew Bailey, The Karcher Group

Attendance for this first session was by my own estimate, approximately about 65% to 70% but keeping in mind that there were 2 other different sessions in progress at the same time, including "Introduction to Search Engine Marketing" with speaker Danny Sullivan and "Search Advertising Clinic" with Andrew Goodman.

Presentation by Shari Thurow was fair and mainly focused on case studies of how not to Spam. Anne Kennedy's presentation was a compliment to Shari's and I thought Anne did a very nice job. One observation I have always had about this type of session, is the speakers really don't have too much time to speak on the topic, with 3 people presenting and often the presentation time is around 10 to 16 minutes (or less) in order to leave some time for questions and answers.

One can never assume that all SEOs understand the implications of Spam and by the end of the presentation with Matt Bailey, between all of the presenters, there had been numerous examples of what not to do, how not to Spam and the consequences of performing Spam.

Best overall tips from the sessions, in my own opinion, were from Anne's presentation where she admonished everyone not just to "avoid Spam" but to avoid even the "appearance of Spam." How many Webmasters ever even read a Search Engine's guidelines? e.g. e.g.

In the Questions and Answers portion of the program, I appreciated that Anne Kennedy took the time to explain for example that there are acceptable uses for a "landing page." In these types of sessions in the past, I think far too much time has been spent proclaiming things like "All doorway pages are wrong!" but never taking the time to really help the audience understand what is right and proper.

In the early days of law enforcement, when they were teaching officers how to detect counterfeit money, or how to tell the difference between a phony dollar bill and a real one, there was one effective strategy. The most effective way was to teach people how to detect a genuine dollar bill. In other words, once you have studied the real genuine thing, once you know it and understand it, you'll never ever be fooled by a phony one. However, you can study thousands of phony dollar bills and still never learn to determine a genuine one.

In other words, I think this session could benefit with more focus on how to build a quality information rich page (rather than just focusing on giving examples of Spam.) Once the audience understands how to do the job properly, they'll never feel the need to turn to Spam nor would they ever have anyone else pull the wool over their eyes again. Just an observation, but interestingly, there were even some "self proclaimed" Spammers in the audience, who wanted to simply admit it and had questions about how to clean it up. I guess that's a great sign that the message delivered by the speakers had been effectively received.

End of Session One: Cleaning Up Spam

Next it was on to visit a few of the exhibitors for a few minutes before the next session.

The exhibitor layout was quite close by and yes quite a few familiar folks were there. I actually ran into several of our own past SEO Mastery Workshop students who were in town for the conference. One of the nice things about these conferences is meeting other SEOs and people you know as well as meeting a few new contacts too.

The Exhibitors at the Toronto SES Conference included:

  • Google in Booth 107 (naturally, it's always a pleasure to drop by their booth) Drop by or - Founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
  • MSN Search Booth 205 With Sympatico broadband services, MSN's Hotmail, Messenger and Search services Check out their safety center to help users protect their computers, children and personal info.
  • Booth 101 This is a network of Canadian web sites distributing contextual advertising 100% Canadian, Canadian sites, Canadian keywords and Canadian dollars.
  • Direct Marketing News in Booth 206
  • in Booth121 Helps you make wise advertising decisions. Touch the magic lamp.
  • plus more exhibitors than I had time to visit, so I had to move on to the next presentation.

Here, an attendee at the Search Engine Strategies conference in Toronto, Mr. Greg Mate stops by to sit in on an Eye Tracking demonstration conducted by SES show exhibitor

What is the objective of eye tracking? This sophisticated technology actually allows you to identify exactly what your Web visitors may or may not see on a Web page when they visit. The whole secret of this technology can help you pinpoint and correct design weaknesses in a Web page.

How does it work?

In the picture on the right, I've highlighted the built in sensors which track eye movement as a subject looks at a Web page. In this fashion, the system works to record eye movement and helps determine what elements are seen on the screen when a test page is loaded. This profound technology records the details and can then produce what is called a "heat map" showing various color coded hot spots which represent how a visitor looked at the page. By understanding how people are actually looking at a page, you can understand how to position material and key elements for maximum advantage.

This technology was also spoken about in the upcoming session which I was about to attend called "Understanding and Influencing Searcher Behavior."

Next Session: Understanding and Influencing Searcher Behavior

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Associate Editor of

Gord Hotchkiss, President and CEO of Enquiro
Bonny Brown, Director of Research, Keynote

Attendance: Standing room only

The focus of this presentation seemed very popular and is certainly a session I did not want to miss. It was largely exploring the latest technologies for eye tracking and offering results from a previous study. What is eye tracking? It's the ability to actually track and measure what a web visitors sees on your Web page. The study presented was based on how people were viewing search results on Google with aggregate heat maps that represented exactly what the audience tested saw (what they looked at within the search results) as well as (what they actually clicked on).

Interestingly enough, there were some interesting patterns that occurred. The hottest spots were the top left hand corner then across to the right and then moving down the left hand side in viewing patterns tended to create what might be considered a pattern shaped like the letter "F".

This is not an image used from the presentation or a heat map. It's just a conception of the typical F shape viewing pattern.

Other interesting things touched on: (not illustrated here)

  • Major hot spots were in the top left hand corner
  • Minor hot spot over the Google search button (obviously peoples eyes were stopping there)
  • Actual exposure drops off dramatically below the fold.
  • An interesting mild hotspot at the bottom of the page nearly like an anchor when people scrolling down.
  • Prime real estate is in what they call the golden triangle in the top left hand corner.

Other interesting results were revealed around the fact that some changes were quite different on the second visit to the search results.

  • Much less of the golden triangle left
  • On second visit, people were tending to be reading much more (and being influenced by descriptions)
  • Evidence on second visit, that a number 4 listing with a good description was being viewed more than a top listing.

There were also some other details discussed concerning "semantic mapping" which was most interesting. Obviously I cannot deliver the presentation here, but I highly recommend this session to you the next time you attend the SES conference. It did go into more significant detail on how PPC advertising is being viewed as well. A fascinating study, delivered to a full room of attendees.

Final interesting facts from this session? Canadians are more hesitant to purchase online than are Americans. Canadians tend to do a little more research before making a decision to buy.

Lunch Break

Next it was off for a walk across the lobby to a luncheon provided. Very nice enjoyable boxed lunch with several choices. I ended up sitting around the table enjoying lunch hour with some of our students as well as one attendee who was visiting all the way from Spain. Boxed lunches were quite a good idea for this event.

Next Session: Search Term Research

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Associate Editor of

Cam Balzer, Search Strategy Performics Inc.
Christine Churchill, KeyRelevance

Attendance: Was at about 85 % showing good interest in the subject.

Christine Churchill delivered a fine presentation covering her favorite Keyword Research tools with honorable mention to Wordtracker, Overture and Nichebot as well as the Teoma engine. This was a good session covering the basic and traditional keyword research techniques, which the audience did seem to enjoy and benefit from.

Cam Balzer offered up a nice session which I though complimented Christine's session. Keyword research, as all of our readers know, is extremely important and this session is recommended.

Next Session: Meet the Crawlers

Attendance: Full house

Quick Tips from the Search Engines themselves which included representation from Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, MSN and of course Google:

Many of the tips, news bits and advice overlapped so here were a few points:

Ask Jeeves:

  • Ask Jeeves recently has started working with compression saving 25% on bandwidth.
  • Use simplicity
  • Date your content
  • Don't use session IDs

Yahoo Search:

  • Has 372 million users
  • Delivers over 3 billion pageviews per day
  • Good relationship with Rogers
  • Use good authoritative links encourages deep crawls


  • Mentioned that there are "over 100 different ranking influences."
  • Suggested Page Rank was still important
  • Keyword Proximity
  • Bolding
  • Keyword phrases in Headers
  • Link text
  • Site Freshness
  • Don't cloak
  • Don't use hidden text or hidden links

MSN Search

  • MSN provides slightly different results to Canadian searchers than American
  • MSN's future objective will be to better focus on answering questions
  • Use descriptive Titles
  • Use a Sitemap
  • Make sure you offer original content
  • Links to your site are important
  • Don't use Java redirects - Do use 301 or 302 redirects if needed
  • Don't hide links or use hidden text
  • Don't get involved with link farms
  • No more than 150k of page weight
  • Nothing can replace high quality, original content

Final Session of the day:

Moderator: Mike Grehan, CEO Smart Interactive

Keith Hogan of Ask Jeeves
Debra Mastaler of
Eric Ward CEO of

Attendance: Full house

Highly interesting session conducted by Moderator Mike Grehan, with a dash of humor and and excellent lineup of guests on the topic of linking strategies. All presenters did an admirable job. In the picture below, Keith Ward offers a few important points in summary to his presentation.

Tips in Summary from Eric Ward:

  • Seek links because links help people find you regardless of your search rankings. Any ranking boosts that happens to follow a link campaign is simply a bonus.
  • Don't pick target sites purely based on traffic, pick them based on content match.
  • Web based links are not the only links that help build your audience. Think newsletters, ezines and discussion posts too.
  • It is impossible to quantify the effect of links alone on search engines.
  • Bulk e-mail link requests get deleted, pick up the phone.

Discuss this article in the Small Buisness Ideas forum.
May 9, 2005

John Alexander is Co-director of Training at Search Engine Workshops offering live, SEO Workshops with partner Robin Nobles as well as online search engine marketing courses through Online Web Training. John is author of Wordtracker Magic and co-author of the Totally Non-Technical Guide for A Successful Web Site. John and Robin are also official members of the Q&A customer support team at

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