SES vs. PubCon

Search Engine Strategies Vs. WebmasterWorld – Pubcon

So, I just wanted to recount my experiences at the two conferences that I have been to so far…

Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo – Chicago, December 2005
WebmasterWorld Conference and PubCon
– Boston, April 2006

I’ve only been to those two conferences, so this won’t necessarily be a comprehensive review, but I hope to go to one more of each this year, so maybe I can continue on this post at a later time.


Search Engine Strategies

I’m originally from a suburb of Chicago, so it didn’t take much arm twisting when my previous company asked me if I would like to attend SES in Chicago. Though it was in the middle of winter and I had to break out my peacoat, scarf, and gloves, I was looking forward to the once familiar chill. All of my closest friends live in or around Chicago, so I was able to meet up with them and enjoy the great nightlife in the city. I’ve been to most of the major cities in the U.S. and a couple around the world and Chicago is still, by far, my favorite.

WebmasterWorld PubCon

I’ve never been to Boston and I’ve always wanted to go, so I didn’t hesitate when my current company gave me the opportunity. It was springtime and the weather was getting nice. Boston reminded me a lot of Chicago including the sense that the people had a lot of pride in their city. The Boston Marathon was going on, I went to Cheers, and watched the Red Sox play in Fenway. I would love to go back.


I like the fact that these conferences take place in major cities. There are always things to do and sights to see. SES seems to keep adding venues and PubCon keeps jumping around to wherever they think is a good place to be. The only advantage here would be that you generally know when and where SES is going to be, whereas PubCon doesn’t hold a regular schedule.


Search Engine Strategies

The Hilton in Chicago was great. Some of the session rooms were a bit difficult to find at first, but there were conference-helper-people there that were friendly and helpful. Having the conference at a hotel gave it a more warm and comfortable feel, even though it was zero degrees outside.

WebmasterWorld PubCon

The Hynes Convention Center was okay. It was very big and convention center-y. There wasn’t much else gong on, so I kind of got a desolate feeling there… not much else to say.


From what I can find, it seems like most of the SESes are held in big hotels, while the PubCons are held in convention centers. If you couldn’t tell, I definitely prefer the hotels.


Search Engine Strategies

SES had their stuff together – From the registration to the session layout to the speaker time limits and session moderation to the audio and visual setup – everything was pretty much on par. Since everything went so smoothly, I didn’t really think about it until now… but there must have been a ton of work that went into this event.

WebmasterWorld PubCon

PubCon seemed a bit unorganized. I didn’t like that there were only five minutes between some of the sessions. The audio quality in the convention center was not very good either. It was difficult to hear many of the speakers even though I sat front-and-center in every session. Apparently, the organizers also misplaced a box holding a bunch of important stuff to setup the conference.


Need I say more? Advantage: SES.

Sessions and Speakers

Search Engine Strategies

There were four tracks of sessions spanning over 3 and-a-half days at SES. There was a nice variety of speakers – there were the big names who everybody has (or should have) heard of and there were speakers that no one has heard of before, but they were very experienced and had valuable information to give.

WebmasterWorld PubCon

There were four tracks of sessions spanning over 2 days plus the infamous PubCon Classic. There were many of the same speakers at PubCon that I saw at SES, as well as additional big names. Of course there were also the others that I never heard of before, but most of them presented useful information.


From what I read on the net – including SearchEngineRoundtable and SearchEngineWatch – the general consensus seemed to be that SES was more businesses oriented and geared more toward newbies and marketers, whereas PubCon was more intimate, relaxed and focuses more on techinical aspects. I did not see these disctinctions at all. This may have been the case in the past, but the sessions at the conferences I attended were very similar. The coverage at SES was obviously more expansive, but the level of speakers was comparable.


Both conferences were well worth going to for me and I would recommend them to anyone in the industry. SES generally costs at least double the amount of PubCon, but rightfully so. SES is longer, so there are more sessions. Also, SES is usually a larger conference, so there is more opportunity to network and obtain information. Plus, the expo is bigger… so, there are more vendors to get tchotchkes from.

I feel like PubCon is trying to be more like SES, which isn’t such a bad thing. SES has been organized and established longer, whereas PubCon began as a get-together in a bar.

This isn’t to say that PubCon is of lesser value. On the contrary, PubCon was well worth the price. At less than half the cost of SES, the quality of the speakers and presentations was comparable and the networking opportunities were still there.

Since I didn’t have to pay for either, if I had to choose one… it would be SES because it was well organized, the venue and atmosphere was better, there are more sessions, and there are more people to meet and network with.

On the other hand, if I had to pay… PubCon is probably a better value because the level of the speakers was about the same and there are less people, so it’s a little more intimate and easier to find and talk to people that you want to.

To end, I believe the most value that one can get out of these conferences is through the networking. This is how you can get some of the “inside” information that you won’t get in the general nature of the sessions. Plus, it allows for associations to grow and before you know it, you’ll be trading emails and instant messages with the experts who you used to know only through the face of their blogs.

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