Home Services Contact Info

Search Marketing World – Full Disclosure About Site Clinics Required

Posted in: SEM by Richard Hearne on March 13, 2007
Internet Marketing Ireland

Search Marketing World

Search Marketing World is a new Search Marketing conference scheduled for March 21 next here in Dublin Ireland. Organised by Interactive Return, the event promises to be Ireland’s premier search marketing event. As a search marketer I’m optimistic that the event is going to bring search marketing to a new level in Ireland.

World Class Speakers

I first heard about the event back in December of 2006 and quickly signed up to attend. At the time there was no programme available and the speaker list consisted of five or six individuals. The calibre of those speakers alone sold me on the event. Since then a number of additional high profile speakers has been added to the roster, further enhancing the event.

Does the programme live up to the speakers?

Last week I visited the official site and viewed the programme for the first time. I noticed that there was a site clinic running throughout the event which I thought was a novel feature. I’m relatively new to industry conferences and thought the clinics might be a good opportunity to get involved in some public way.

I’m very, very experienced at checking websites, having spent many hours assisting site owners on perhaps the largest site clinic on the planet – Google Webmaster Help Group. So I decided to get in touch with the organisers and offer my services for the site clinics.

There’s always a catch

Marting Murray replied to my email saying they would be delighted to have me as an expert for the site clinic. He would supply me with a PC, a desk and two chairs, and a broadband connection. All for the fee of €1,950 excluding the VAT. This certainly wasn’t the site clinic I had expected. And from my reading of the official material not the site clinic represented.

Before I go any further I want to state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the organisers making money from this event. I’m sure the costs and risks of such an event are very high, and top calibre speakers command top calibre fees.

What I do object to is a lack of transparency and disclosure about the site clinic.

Official details about the site clinics

From the official site:

This is a clinic staffed by experienced search marketing professionals. You can have a one-to-one, no obligation consultation on any search marketing issue that is facing you. Walk away with the search marketing solution for which you have been searching.

If you would like to make an appointment with a consultant at this clinic please send an email detailing the time at which you wish to attend, your website URL, company name and any other necessary information. We will then confirm the time with you.

There is no indication there that the experienced professionals are paying for access to the attendees. Furthermore, a check of the exhibitors page fails to uncover any mention of site clinic exhibitors or sponsors.

After attending SES London last month, I have to say that Search Marketing World is starting to appear like a very commercial venture (I’ll keep my views on the Google clinics for a follow-up post). And of course this is the prerogative of the organisers. SES was also very commercial, but you did know immediately when someone was paying for the privilege of accessing you. The SES site clinics were very informal with ‘drop-in’ spontaneous sessions. To the best of my knowledge the speakers at those clinics were chosen as opposed to being involved because they paid.

Any sponsorship arrangements should be disclosed

My own view is that the official Search Marketing World material is at best vague about the expert participation in the site clinics. With all the bad coverage the SEM industry was received of late, I would have expected full disclosure on any element of the conference that could even be suggested as open to impropriety.

Whereas attendees are more likely than not very aware that exhibitors are paying for that privilege, it may not be so obvious that the site clinic experts are doing likewise.

It should be, in my opinion, fully disclosed that those companies and individuals providing advice at the site clinics are paying for that privilege, and that this track of the conference is a commercial undertaking on the part of the companies involved. After all, a company that pays a fee does so with an expectation of making a return on that investment. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as it is disclosed.

Moral duty of care

The duty to disclose sponsorship relationships rests solely with the event organisers. If attendees are kept unaware of this sponsorship I see only downside risks that could damage the industry as a whole. Full disclosure will not affect the site clinics in any way other than to ensure a balanced and safe interaction between sponsoring experts and advice-seeking attendees.

I did ask request further clarification from Martin Murray of Interactive Return (the conference organisers) but received no response to my follow-up email.

Protecting a very nascent Search Marketing industry

It is my hope that the organisers will act on my concerns. Again, I believe that the organisers have a duty of care to disclose whether conference participants are paying for access to the attendees.

Doing so will only enhance the reputation of the event, and protect and enhance Ireland’s nascent Search Marketing industry.

You should subscribe to the RSS Feed here for updates.
Or subscribe to Email Updates now:


  1. Interesting. I was under the impression that the staff of interactive return would be running these clinics and/or paying others.

    I fully agree. I am sure most attendees will not be aware of this and I cannot help to to think that there will be some serious agenda pushing from the SEO doctors.

    Did you end up paying to be an “SEO doctor”?

    Comment by Dave Davis — March 13, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  2. Hi Dave

    No. I’m happy for the purposes of full disclosure to state that I didn’t sponsor myself.

    The alarm bells went off the minute I received the offer. And being honest, I don’t like the way this is being marketed at all. I just hope that it’s a matter of two steps forward and one step back and not vice-versa.


    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 13, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  3. Well, all of our web design clients are VERY loyal and they fill me in on all the cold calls they receive. There are two outfits that call literally ALL our clients and push and SEO sell pretty hard on them.

    I also know for a FACT that at least one has no clue what they are doing. I would be worried that a company like this would be manning the clinic and pushing their services being detrimental to the purpose of the event.

    I am really looking forward to two of the events. One of them being “Selecting your Search Engine Marketing Provider”. I can only wonder what sort of sales pitch everyone is going to get now.

    Comment by Dave Davis — March 13, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  4. Wow! I just had another look at the speakers list. Perm TSB? Cybercom? Ican? Oh dear. Being the one who actually recommended that two of my superiors attend with me, I’m going to be forced to compile a ‘s**tlist’ of blaggers for them to avoid before we go. More’s the pity.

    Comment by Ken — March 14, 2007 @ 4:34 pm

  5. I was very interested to read your comments but I have to say that I disagree with a number of points you make. To me, it would be quite reasonable for someone to sponsor such clinics since there is every chance the sponsor may generate revenue from the sessions. Also I feel your accusations that the organisers are trying to pull the wool over delegate eye’s is unsubstantiated. By reading their description of the clinics I would presume there is some sort of commercial element. The term “no obligation consultation”, says to me that this is a professional company touting their services and if you like what they say you can sign up for it. When I looked at the site, to me, all the sponsors were clearly listed down the right hand column, I would presume that any sponsor of the clinics would also be listed. We live and work in a commercial world and of course this event is going to have a commercial element, the primary reason most people are attending is to gain more visibility for their site and therefore more revenue.

    Overall given the list of speakers, topics and attendees, this looks a very exciting event. The first of it’s kind in Ireland. Hopefully your conspiracy theories will not do anything to damage the name of the event.

    Comment by NPR — March 15, 2007 @ 9:46 am

  6. Hi NPR

    I have to say that I am quite clear that my issue is with disclosure not with sponsorship. I have absolutely no issue with sponsorship as long as that sponsorship is disclosed. I tried not to make any accusations, but rather give my suggestions for improving the transparency of the site clinics.

    Why have the organisers not stated that the clinics are sponsored? Wouldn’t that be simple and the most appropriate action in this case?

    I would presume that any sponsor of the clinics would also be listed

    I think your presumption might be misguided. If you check the sponsorship page you will not find any reference to sponsoring the site clinics. One of the companies that was mentioned as participating in the site clinics is not listed anywhere on the site as a sponsor.

    I agree that the term “no obligation consultation” appears in the copy, and this gives an indication of the commercial nature of those clinics. However, I think the approach of attendees will be very different if they are aware that those giving the advice have paid to do so – I would certainly be far more guarded.

    If the clinics were conducted solely by Interactive Return staff I think it would be appropriate to leave it as-is. This is not the case however, and I would be very interested to know what vetting is conducted on these “experienced search marketing professionals”? After all, I was welcome to participate, if I paid the required fee, without providing any proof of my ability.

    I agree that an event like this is exciting, but I’m not quite sure why you think I am promoting conspiracy theories or trying to damage the name of the event?

    What I am trying to do is protect a very nascent industry that has been damaged by the many cowboys who offer ‘SEO’ services here in Ireland. And just to be clear, that is not a dig at any company involved in the clinics or the event itself.


    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 15, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  7. I’m sure a few cowboys that I have run into in the past will be at this and probably dishing out the advice.

    So let me guess. No screening process on which SEO doctors will be allowed? Apart from the size of their cheque?

    I’m sure you’ll be watching carefully. :-)

    Comment by Gavin — March 16, 2007 @ 1:16 am

  8. Hi Gavin

    I should be fair and say that I wasn’t asked for any supporting evidence of my skills or ability. Perhaps my reputation precedes me, but I very much doubt it.

    I wont be venturing near the clinics.
    You wont be going along yourself?


    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 16, 2007 @ 7:34 am

  9. Im Trying to arrange a meetup on the day see over at


    Comment by Jason Roe — March 16, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  10. [...] Last week I blogged my views on the forthcoming Search Marketing World expo. In particular I felt that disclosure around the site clinic sponsorship was very weak. Some people agreed, some people didn’t see the problem. [...]

    Pingback by When Your SEO Provider Promotes Cloaking | Search Engine Optimisation Ireland .:. Red Cardinal — March 20, 2007 @ 9:15 pm

Comments Feed TrackBack

Leave a comment