Took a break from reality yesterday – and today – to attend the Search Engine Strategies Conference in Toronto. Not a subject I’ve spent a lot of time on lately but it is something I have an interest in through my role at Longtail Publishing – a partnership I’m involved that owns about 150 domain names and websites – everything from through and – practical, local, directory-based listings.

SES isn’t necessarily of greatest benefit to publishers, like Longtail. But it’s of great interest to traditional brand marketers and company owners who want/need their brands in front of potential customers.

Get this – 80% of all first interactions with a brand occur on-line now. If you don’t show up on-line, you don’t show up.

Search engine marketing – getting ranked high enough for customers to find you on the key search engines – is a relatively new art/science that is evolving at the speed of the web. Two years ago, SES was all about getting ranked first page on Google. Everything was text based.

That’s changing. Fast. Thanks to ‘expert’ sites like Flickr (photos), YouTube (videos) and hundreds/thousands of others (press releases, customer reviews, social sites like Facebook), getting your brand noticed and ranking highly on Google and other searches can start anywhere.

Some key, simple learning for me as I advise my clients on basic marketing – make a video, take some screen shots, do some press releases – and load them on the web. Tag them with the appropriate keywords and cover your bases to get noticed.

As a result, the key theme from Day 1 of SES was not ‘search engine optimization’ but ‘digital asset management’ – going beyond web-site based approaches and branching out to the other ‘filters’ on the net that get your brand ranked and noticed. Put another way – getting your content – text, pictures, videos, reviews – out beyond your website.

Other practical learning – how to appropriately ‘tag’ your content to match what potential customers are looking for – not ‘shampoo’, but ‘shiny hair’; not ‘lending’, but ‘borrowing’; not ‘document destruction’, but ‘shredding’. Speaking simple, customer-centric language, not marketese.

For expert advice on doing this and marketing your company on the web I can highly recommend my partner in Longtail, John Robb. His site and contact info is here.

Overall a good day at SES Toronto. Looking forward to today.