I promised a few SEO people that I'd very candidly report my experiences over at the Elite Retreat which took place Dec 18-19 in San Antonio, TX, so below is my foggy recollection of what may have occurred before and after that hazy period of imbibing scotch and spamming the Howl at the Moon message of the minute bar board. While some of the attendees were looking to give their website a tweak or a tune, others definitely benefited from the buzz.
Just to clear things up for those that also attended:
Cygnus is a dirty black hat spammer. Sorry, I think Dave Taylor was editing for a bit here. What I meant to say is that a large amount of material was covered, ranging from the pure snow white hat "content without concern" to the existence of some darker stuff, that could lead a site you truly care about to get axed (be safe or don't be sloppy granddad always said).
For someone in my position, the true value of such a get together was not in the actual information "presented"; rather, it was a chance for a guy that tends to keep to himself to get out and meet some interesting people face to face. While I've probably traded comments on various forums with Aaron for several years now, I've only now just met him; the same now goes for Jeremy (and I'm glad I did; they are both very human and approachable for those of you just starting out in this business, hardly any cyborg qualities that I could detect). Having been around for a while in this industry, and having little non-working waking time available, it was nice to get away for a couple days.
So did I benefit from going? Dropping $5k on a conference that could potentially have just been repeating anything I probably already read in the dozens of forums and blogs on my daily radar? Yes…not in the conventional sense, but yes nonetheless. I naturally didn't get a lot out of the more basic material regarding blogging, forums and how to monetize them, standard PPC arbitrage, or even the normal SEO layout issues, but there were various signals I picked up on that occurred mostly in side conversations. You see, whenever a high enough bar is set for an attendee, one can almost be assured to get as much out of fellow attendees and side conversations with the presenters as from the one-on-one with presenters themselves at regular conferences. Though I can't go into details for obvious (going to cost more than $5k to wring it out of me) reasons, I did get some juicy nuggets regarding things I've suspected but couldn't empirically test, a couple tricks that I had long abandoned that now work again, and some information from previously unknown sources that flat out works and I now need to spend about a week trying to figure out how and why.
Anyhow, so that is from someone that's been around the block, who is running a decent-sized operation; for someone newer, the more obvious value is in the presentations and the face-to-face visits. For those of you new people, I'll personally have to track you down if you don't follow up with the one-on-one consulting…take some time to digest everything that happened, but then formulate the most important things you can do and try to do them - when you hit your second or third roadblock, setup the calls.
Cygnus on future Elite Retreat conferences
Please don't expect anyone at any conference to simply spill all their trade secrets (without offering anything in return) or run your business for you; that just won't happen and is a recipe for failure. If you instead go with an idea of what you hope to accomplish in terms of a few key takeaways, and keep your ears open at absolutely all times (to absolutely everyone, no matter how good or bad you think you are), you can do quite well.
I have some ideas on ways that the Elite Retreat could be even better for the next crop of attendees, but I'll keep that off of the public posting for now.