Reflections: Yahoo! Merchant Summit 2012 in Sunnyvale CA

By Nik

Last week was my first visit to a Yahoo! Merchant Summit in a few years – odd coincidental pre-planned events seemed to preclude my attendance for far too long. I was thrilled to attend – and in complete reflection, I can say without hesitation that it was an amazing conference – the best conference I’ve been to, and I’ve been to far too many.

Who Was There

Everybody from the Yahoo! account team – as usual they were brilliant, warm-hearted and in a celebratory mood. There was a lot to celebrate: this group of attendees consisted of heroes that have overcome great odds to attain success in the world of niche online retail.

What punctuated the event, for me, was a few days of reflection on the unique experience that an owner of this type of business has, when compared to others from the broader online retail industry. Not big brands, not bottom-feeders – these were niche leaders.

Cyborgs of sorts – niche leaders contain the still-beating hearts of the “mom and pop” brand of retail, with all their greatest qualities amplified and improved upon by technology.

The stories I heard from conversations and presentations were amazing. The vast majority of attendees had built their niche leadership over years – with each passing year, their sites grew deeper and wider; their brands supported by better redesigns and a stronger focus on social and email. They had decrypted often opposing views of a gauntlet of advisors. They had weathered storms of change, often perpetuated in their immediate direction – yes, I would put a group of Google’s algorithm changes in this category. Their bond continues to be greater than the success they all share, or the platform they all use – their experiences have shaped their commonality.

I’m proud to be a part of that experience and that community. I’m proud that Exclusive Concepts has been so instrumental in the ebb, flow and growth of this fascinating and courageous sliver of the world’s entrepreneurs.

My Unique Honor

I was honored to speak after the keynote. In 35 minutes, I furiously covered nearly 60 slides – thanks to Mike Ober for those extra 5 minutes! My topic was SEO and the feedback I received was so kind and generous. I’ll pat myself on the back here – two familiar business owners showered me with two compliments, respectively, that I hope to never forget: “best SEO presentation I’ve ever seen” and “it restored my faith in SEO”. I don’t know what I did to deserve that – but I’ve been trying to figure that out ever since.

I’ve asked myself, what could possibly have created such reassurance? After all, I just laid out how our team sees SEO, those changes we face, and the exciting challenges we overcome. What I think may have done the trick is the following:

  • Attendees got the chance to understand the efforts of Google’s search quality team and how they’ve tried to overcome their own challenges over time, as a group of geeks, and why certain changes happen as they do. Almost all changes are for a benefit of the users, or Google’s bandwidth. Once you understand what Google was trying to do with a change, you’ll understand what approaches are reasonable, and why certain tactics will work or fail against those changes. That’s reassuring.
  • I refrained from conjecture as best as possible – in all facets of marketing, you can sit next to two experienced marketers and strike a disagreement on even the most core of topics. Instead, the only quotes presented were from Google’s team – and all theories and actions stemmed purely from them.
  • There were a lot of to-do’s that Yahoo! Store owners could go off and do on their own. That’s helpful!
  • We (our team at Exclusive Concepts) see SEO as a positive solution for growth – for enhancing user experience, building brand, making smart infrastructural decisions for websites – but we also stay handy with that old school SEO skillset of being able to use a few tactics, when absolutely necessary, to help a website stay within the good end of Google’s many calculations. That’s a realistic (balanced, holistic) approach to SEO and with all the thousands of years of combined web marketing experience in the audience, there was a strong appreciation for reality.

Can’t wait for next year!

If you’d like, you can contact us at to get a copy of the presentation.