The first day of Pubcon was a rousing success. But even more so for me, because I am a Pubcon virgin. Earlier this month, I wrote the 5 top reasons you should attend Pubcon, but I wrote those solely based on things I had heard. You see, I’ve been a speaker at various marketing industry shows for the better part of 10 years, but somehow had never made it to Pubcon. So when I had the opportunity to attend Pubcon NOLA (New Orleans, LA), I jumped at it. For the next three days, I’ll be sharing that perspective – as a Pubcon virgin – in the hopes that some of you virgins will join me in Vegas for the next one. And if you have been to Pubcon before, hopefully my fresh perspective will help you remember how much you need to come back.

You can visit Bruce Clay and various other great blogs for live play by plays of what the speakers said. But as a Pubcon virgin, I’m a little too overwhelmed to give you the liveblog version.

Overwhelming was the theme of the day today. I almost didn’t make it to Pubcon for day 1 because of ice in my hometown of Raleigh, NC, so when I arrived just before lunch, all I could really do was take in the surroundings. Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was that it was quiet… I wondered if I was in the right place? So I went to registration, confirmed I was in the right place, but a quick check of the schedule showed that everyone must be in sessions! Well that was a rarity in itself. Usually at conferences the halls are full and the session rooms are half empty. I quickly learned that this was because the quality of information being shared in these sessions was off the hook.

I’ve been told before that Pubcon is the “speakers conference”, or where the speakers come to learn, but I certainly had my doubts. As a 15 year industry veteran, it’s extremely rare that I learn something really valuable in a conference session. Until today that is…

After I got my coffee, I ducked into a session room and caught the second half of a double session. Chris Goward (WiderFunnel) and his client, BuildDirect were sharing how they doubled their conversion rate with some changes to the layout and structure of the site. Rather than get into details (you can read the twitter stream), I’ll just say that this laid the foundation for the theme of the day: Real Company Sh*t (RCS). If you’re not familiar with this concept, it was popularized by Wil Reynolds (SeerInteractive) and refers to how companies are shifting away from SEO and tactical implementations and more towards just being real companies that take responsibility for their actions and think strategically.

When the sessions broke for lunch, I sought out a few of my conference buddies to say hi and grab a nice lunch. What I noticed is that Pubcon isn’t the behemoth intimidating conference I somehow always thought it was. It’s a very intimate and friendly event. In fact, I had so much fun over lunch debating the future of our industry and talking about great books with Matthew Capala (SearchDecoder), Mark Traphagen, and Eric Enge (both of StoneTemple), that I was almost late to the next session.

What I chose next was “The state of SEO”, which was a loosely structured conversation with Greg Boser, a former black hat turned white hat SEO who knows more about how to effectively optimize sites than pretty much anyone else alive today. While he talked tactically about some SEO strategies and contributed my favorite quote so far, “scrape the sh*t out of Google, they’re the world’s worst scraper site,” he too agreed that if SEOs want to remain relevant, we need to start thinking about RCS.

The wrap up for the day was another fantastic session with Dixon Jones, the man behind Majestic SEO. His session was all about ways to optimize for sites other than Google, and he shared quite a few gems for Linkedin, Twitter, YouTube and other sites. The bottom line? Putting all your faith in Google isn’t what real companies do. I believe his quote was “Google may own 90% of search, but if they own 90% of your traffic, you’re screwed”.

After the sessions, I grabbed some delicious food with Thom Craver (Internet Marketing Ninjas) and Larry Kim (Wordstream), where we had a spirited debate about the current state of Google penalties and whether SEO or PPC is better (I won’t tell you who won). I rounded out the evening (oh who am I kidding, it was early morning) on the upper balconies at Bourbon Cowboy for the sponsored networking event, where I met more wonderful people like my new friend Nicole Harrison (SocialNicole) and we talked about the realities of consulting life and choosing the right clients – more RCS.

First day as a Pubcon virgin, I have to say any negatives I expected just weren’t there, and the positives were far higher in number than I expected. Now to do some RCS like catch up on some work.