SearchFest — as it was then called — was the first SEO conference that I ever attended. It was way back in 2010 that I first walked through the doors of the Governor Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon and I had absolutely no idea that my mind was about to be completely blown.
Up until that time, all of my SEO knowledge (what little I had at that point) had come primarily from people I worked with directly. I ate up everything I could, but the few tips I were given came with little explanation as to why we were doing that specific thing for SEO; the situation was often someone saying, “do the thing because I know it helps SEO and maybe one day we can talk about why”.
My SEO skillset was mostly comprised of a lot of the “what” without any of the “why”. I should note that it was supplemented every now and then with the occasional blog post from SEObook.com, but that was about it. Little did I know, I was rapidly approaching a catalyst that would fundamentally change my understanding of SEO and my entire career.
SearchFest ended up on my radar after I attended a monthly talk put on by SEMpdx — Portland’s search engine marketing association. The 45-minute talk had been really good, so I was intrigued by the prospect of an entire day of talks and the idea of experiencing something like that. The whole thing seemed almost made up. A day-long schedule of people openly sharing SEO secrets? What?!
So it came to pass that I went back to the office and begged my boss to let me take the day off to attend. He agreed, and even purchased my ticket, on the condition that I fill up an entire legal pad with notes and commit to giving a presentation to the office the following week. I’ve never accepted an offer faster!
In many ways, I think that walking through the doors of the Governor (since renamed as “The Sentinel“) and taking that elevator up to the ballroom for my first SearchFest (since rebranded to “Engage”) changed the whole trajectory of my career. It might not even be much of an overstatement to say that it changed my life. SearchFest definitely blew my mind and inspired me to dig deeper into the field of SEO; it was where I first began to understand the “why” of SEO; it was the first time I’d spoken with more than a single SEO practitioner in a day; it was my first exposure to Moz and seeing Rand Fishkin give a presentation; it was where (a few years later) I would attend a session that put the idea in my head that — maybe someday — I could get on stage and give my own presentation at a conference; I’m also pretty sure SearchFest is where I met first met Ruth Burr Reedy, my present-day right-hand/partner-in-crime here at UpBuild.
These days, when I turn up at Engage, it feels like coming home. It feels like being fully in my element. Sure, it’s completely exhausting (introverts represent) but it’s absolutely worth it. I’m not saying that Engage is the best SEO conference in the world (but it sure is up there on the list!) or that it’s the right conference for everyone, but attending it has been a critical component of my professional success and professional development.
It’s my sincere hope that I’m not the only who’s had an experience like this. It might not be Engage/SearchFest. Chances are it’s something else, so what is your “Engage”? Do you have an event or gathering where you truly feel in your professional element? Where you’re presented with different perspectives on getting from Point A to Point B in your discipline? Where you’re pushed to test adopt and test new ideas? Where you still reap the rewards and feel the energy weeks, months, and years afterward?
I hope everyone has a chance to find a place like that in their professional lives. I’m eternally grateful that I’ve found mine. If you’re going to Engage this week, I’ll see you there.
Mike Arnesen is a massive optimization geek based in Portland, Oregon. He’s also the Founder and CEO of UpBuild, an SEO and analytics agency on a mission to change everything about how great technical marketing gets done. For a taste of what Mike’s up to right now, visit his NOW page — https://www.mikearnesen.com/about/now/
Mike has been working in the SEO space for over a decade, but actually started out as a history major who took a job at MySpace in the late 2000s. In between support emails, Mike discovered two things: WordPress and SEO. The rest is history.
Today, Mike is considered a thought leader (who would’ve thought!) in SEO and analytics, and he spends his days leading an amazing team of technical marketers at UpBuild, going down technical marketing rabbit holes, speaking at conferences, and contemplating company culture.