Throughout this week, I’ve been in New York City attending Search Marketing Expo (SMX) East, one in a series of worldwide events that focuses on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). After attending last year, I knew 2014’s event couldn’t be missed.

Some highlights: a globally sourced list of presenters and thought leaders in the industry, extremely limited sales pitches in sessions and breakouts, and New York City. Ok, that last one is more of a personal preference. I always loved visiting New York.

But in reflecting on what makes this event so successful, it has to be the content. Every day of the conference features beginner-level courses all the way up to advanced topics (the kind where they don’t stop to explain what a keyword is). SMX is attended by company owners and technical SEO/SEM professionals alike, and they all leave having learned, shared or engaged with something or someone new.

So what have we been discussing this year? There are a few key trends and messages that resonate throughout all of the courses and sessions. And what sticks with me as encouraging is that no matter how technical, how in depth, and how nerdy we get, we keep coming back to things that marketers and communicators have discussed and used for years.

It’s About the Customer
Where is your customer, and what are you doing to reach them? And once you know where they are, how are you making them feel special? Messaging that solves a customer’s problem, or answers their question (through search results, landing pages and targeted ads), makes that customer feel like you know them, and helps reinforce that your company is the best fit for their needs.

Through the SEO/SEM lens, this year’s conference has focused on the ways to better identify and react to those customers and searchers. Not only can we predict what a user may be looking for, we can customize the message to them in real time. Then we can track them all the way through to a conversion. That may sound a bit Big Brother-ish, but when you need market intelligence to make real business decisions, numbers and metrics matter. Your SEO/SEM team or agency can help you get there, and can put the systems in place to make you look like a rock star with the C-Suite.

Know Your Competitors
What is the competition doing online? Without that insight, you may be buried before you know it. And what about competitors that only exist online that may not be on your watch list? Chances are, someone in your industry might be “owning” the online conversation about a topic that is exactly the type of thing you’d like to own.

The available SEO/SEM tools today are so sophisticated that not only can we tell you where your competitors are putting their efforts (SEO, SEM, display ads, etc.), we can see daily, weekly and monthly changes to how those competitors are performing. This can expose some key opportunities and provide realistic insight into what it will take to out-work and out-rank those competitors in search results. Because in the end—how often do you click on Page 2 of your search engine results? We can’t guarantee Page 1 rankings, but we can guarantee that we’ll know what it takes to get there and can then help make the best business decisions in determining if it’s truly worthwhile.

Much Ado About Google
But it’s more than just Google. Thirty percent of Americans use Bing. Some use Yahoo or Duck Duck Go. Each of those search engines provide a slightly different set of results and are always trying to optimize their systems to show a user/searcher the best personalized results.

This means that SEO/SEM teams will always have work to do and changes to make. It’s telling that you’ll often hear a presenter at these sorts of conferences exclaim that they had to rewrite much if not all of their slide deck just prior because of a recent Google change. That’s how quickly search evolves, and if we don’t keep up with it, the sites we manage and maintain will quickly slip in rankings, possibly costing the business valuable traffic and resulting conversions or leads.

But it’s impossible to read every article or keep up on every change. The best advice I can give is this: have a good team in place that understands the bigger goals of search, and can react appropriately when changes do need to be made.

Wrapping up, it’s almost a given that the actual implementation of an SEO or SEM strategy may take a few nerds to get there. But the structure of the programs, the way we talk to customers, and the way we ensure consistency and engagement, are really the same as things we’re used to doing in many other mediums.

Take comfort in the fact that as a non-digital marketer, you really don’t need to know all the details of it. But you can also feel at ease when talking with your SEO and SEM teams—the goals and messages are the same, just with some really cool online vehicles to deliver and track them.

So here’s to some really great teamwork, awesome projects and more great results. Read more about SEO, SEM and how it can impact your company or just give us a ring at AKHIA. We promise to not get (too) nerdy.

Michael Schwabe is Director of Digital Strategy at AKHIA.