Attendee's Review: Shenzhen SEO Conference

Shenzhen SEO conference

Considering Shenzhen is a first-tier city and home to tech companies like Tencent and Huawei, I was surprised to see a post in my LinkedIn feed for an event billing itself as Shenzhen's first SEO conference. Is SEO that nascent there? Who's speaking? Will I learn anything? I decided to go and check it out.

"This is one hell of a bargain for an SEO conference or price=quality and it's going to suck."

"Oops! I cannot send this email!" responded the form on their website when I tried to request tickets. Not a good start. I sent an email to the address listed on the site and luckily got a reply back within an hour confirming the ticket price. The price is literally 4% of what I paid for a ticket to SMX West in San Jose a few years ago. I figured this is one hell of a bargain for an SEO conference or price=quality and it's going to suck.

I arrived about an hour early to the conference, held at a ballroom in a higher end hotel in Nanshan. I paid for my ticket in cash - which they weren't equipped for since apparently most people got tickets in advance or paid on the spot with WeChat Pay or AliPay - and they couldn't produce change. No matter since my change was very little, but it was weird they couldn't provide a physical ticket. I got a t-shirt and stickers and one of the organizer's added on WeChat so I figured that should be enough to prove I paid. I wish I got a ticket or a receipt though, which felt unprofessional.

After returning to the conference venue from lunch, I was surprised to see the ballroom packed with hundreds of people and what looked to be standing room only. I found an open seat in the back and the first speaker was already speaking.

Shenzhen SEO
Despite the description saying this conference will be '更加国际化' (more international), I only counted about 4 people who weren't Chinese.

Here's my notes on attending the first SEO conference in Shenzhen:

  • The description of the conference in Chinese says "英文SEO从业者" (English SEO professionals) but the first speaker was speaking in Mandarin. I can understand Mandarin somewhat so I didn't fall asleep, but the conference description did mention "英文" (English) multiple times so I felt they didn't set good expectations what language the conference would be in.
  • The first speaker was super boring. He was just walking through in detail Google's algorithm updates, since Google started, and giving unnecessary information like the precise dates. I felt going through the super early algorithm updates wasn't useful at all. It's old news.
  • Next up was Aleyda, the only speaker I recognized from the playbill. I was surprised she came to China for this considering I know she speaks on the US and Europe conference circuit as well. She started with saying some words in Mandarin which I don't think many people understood as she had a horrible accent and it was clear she was prepped for just the words she said, so that was cringey. She then wanted a selfie with the audience, which was 2x cringey, so she could post it on Instagram, which she caught herself and acknowledged that was blocked in China, which was 3x cringey. Once those stumbles were out of the way, her talk was ok and luckily in English as thankfully she didn't try to say more in Mandarin. She talked about international SEO but unfortunately didn't localize her own talk as she didn't mention China examples, only US, UK and Spain mostly. She said some questionable things as well:
    1. Subdomains don't inherit as easily the authority of the domain. In practice this is usually true, but I wish she went more into this as it's contentious.
    2. x-default is for the generic version of the site for any country. This was my biggest concern with her talk. Google says, "The new x-default hreflang attribute value signals to our algorithms that this page doesn’t target any specific language or locale and is the default page when no other page is better suited". The example Google gives is a domain with no geosubfolder, saying this page "shows users a country selector and is the default page for users worldwide". My understanding is x-default should be used on country selector pages, but Aleyda made it sound as if this tag should be on every page of a site that isn't already using hreflang in another language/country combination.
  • Next up was John Zhang, one of the conference organizers, who came across as a nice guy, talking about how he hires and keeps his freelance writers happy with gift cards on Thanksgiving, overpaying their invoices, and basically treating them like humans. His presentation slides were also dual lingual which was helpful.
  • Bowen Khong from Singapore was the next speaker, who "sold a niche website for $70,000 within two years". It was an interesting story of his Amazon affiliate site but I got the sense that he stumbled into this and got lucky. His multiple when he sold the site was 27x, so his site was only making $2,500/mo, not a whole lot. He also used private blog network links to get it off the ground which was risky. He also recommended social media backlinks and blog comments without mentioning they don't pass authority. It was interesting how he then convinced his boss at his day job to do SEO and they saw positive results from that. Too bad he didn't push for a bigger raise at his job and instead quit to do another affiliate site.
  • The next guy's talk was about "Link Building Strategies That Work for E-commerce Sites". He started in English, but then said something to the effect of "who's tired of hearing all this English?" and everyone clapped and then he switched to Mandarin. That was weird. I couldn't follow what he was saying after that, but he said something about how he has a big network and when you work with him it's renting that network, so it sounds like paid links / private blog network. One of his clients was and looking at the footer of their site, I see they got links from sites like Forbes, Huffington Post, and Engadget. Opening up those pages it looks like what this guy does is pay off the freelance writers of these publications to add his clients links in the articles. It's funny that on the guy's site it says "我们只做白帽SEO" (we only do whitehat SEO).
  • The conference ended with a "Affiliate SEO Panel" which consisted of the previous speakers and a few new people. My highlights were:
    1. One guy mentioned build content for seniors, kids, or handicapped people to build links as it "warms the heart" to link to this stuff
    2. The same guy also mentioned though that he uses TDF-IDF, which is very old school way of thinking. See Bill Slawski's Twitter rants about it here and here.

Overall I'm glad I went but I don't think it was worth it for me. There was some good tidbits but nothing truly advanced (I can't remember any technical SEO at all discussed), most of the people there were young (one guy I talked to has only been doing SEO for 3 months vs 10+ years for me) and it was too heavy on SEO for websites that monetize with affiliate programs. I got what I paid for.