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The GeoPublishers.com Expo Makes Its First Appearance on the GeoDomain Stage With an All-Star Cast in Chicago  

By Ron Jackson 

I've always been a big believer in geodomains as I think they are the logical successors to traditional local media outlets like newspapers, radio and TV as audiences continue to migrate to the Internet. A website can deliver print, audio and video all from one platform and more importantly it can do it worldwide at a fraction of the cost it takes to reach just one local market through any of the existing mediums. Couple that inherent power with the best possible local brand name - the name of the city itself as represented by domains like Chicago.com, and you have a blockbuster foundation to build on that no other medium can match.

 

So, when the new GeoPublishers.com trade association invited me to open their first Expo at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago with a keynote talk October 1, 2011, I immediately made travel plans for the event that ran Sept. 30 through October 2 in the Windy City. 

Before detailing what happened in Chicago a bit of history is in order. GeoPublishers.com was launched earlier this year with former members from the group that proceeded it, Associated Cities, playing a key role in organizing the new association that is based in New Orleans. That development followed a long period of widely publicized disagreements between some of AC's founders. 

Associated Cities was a ground-breaking organization that put on a series of well-run GeoDomain Expos that I had the pleasure of attending in 2007 (San Francisco), 2008 (Chicago), 2009 (San Diego) and 2010 (New Orleans). 

The idea behind AC, originally envisioned by Chicago.com's Josh Metnick, was a powerful one - building a global network of geodomain owners enabling all of them to work  together to help geodomains realize their unlimited potential. That idea is bigger than any group so it was inevitable that the effort would continue through one organization or another (perhaps even multiple groups as time goes on and the geo field continues to expand). 

Indeed, GeoPublishers.com is a considerably different organization than Associated Cities. AC membership was limited to owners of .com city domains (though its Expo was open to all). 

GeoPublishers.com membership is open to owners of all geo related domains, whether they be .coms, domains in alternate extensions or geo targeted domains (like DenverRealEstate.com) rather than pure city names. 

With that big tent philosophy and AC currently on the sidelines (though still a legal entity), GeoPublishers.com picked up the  geodomain mantle and proceeded with their first conference - the 2011 GeoPublishers.com Expo from which I just returned. 

I was happy to again have the opportunity to spend time with many friends originally made through Associated Cities, as well as meet new ones who came to Chicago to learn more about one of the most exciting sectors on the Internet and in the media world at large. 

The event got underway Friday evening, Sept. 30, 2011, at the Fairmont where GeoPublishers.com President Fred Mercaldo hosted a reception for attendees. The next morning, Mercaldo was behind the podium in the conference room officially getting the association's first Expo underway. 

GeoPublishers.com President Fred Mercaldo (Scottsdale.com) welcomes attendees to the association's first Expo, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011 at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago.

A scene from the President's Reception at the Fairmont, Friday night, Sept. 30, 2011

After his welcoming comments Saturday morning, Mercaldo introduced me and the Expo's first business session was underway. I talked about why geodomains are such a disruptive force in local media (one key point being the attributes I noted in the opening paragraph of this article). I also talked about the kinds of feature-oriented content that I think can help geodomain websites attract visitors year after year, as well as the importance of their efforts as a community to the domain industry at large. I closed with some comments on ICANN's plans to roll out an unlimited number of new gTLDs (re-iterating some points I have previously made in print).

Nine more business sessions followed my opening talk Saturday and they were some of the most useful, information-packed sessions I've ever sat in on at any conference. The organizers did a great job of lining up industry experts who came through with some invaluable presentations. Those included LocalMediaInsider.com's Alisa Cromer who followed me and laid out ten ways to make money quickly on the web. Chitika.com's Vic Chhabra was next, sounding a similar, welcome theme - how geodomains owners are successfully monetizing their sites. 

Alisa Cromer
LocalMediaInsider.com

Vic Chhabra,  Chitika.com

Expo attendees absorbing information during Saturday's business sessions (Oct. 1, 2011)

The men behind NewOrleans.com (two gentlemen who were also instrumental in forming GeoPublishers.com) Don Jones and Bill Hammack were on hand for the Expo and Jones took a turn at the podium, detailing what they had learned about what works and what does not work after years of trial and error at NewOrleans.com. Every attendee I spoke with agreed that was one of the most informative and valuable talks of the weekend

Don Jones shares what worked and did not work on the way to building 
a geodomain powerhouse with partner Bill Hammack at NewOrleans.com

Next up, the Castello Brothers, Michael and David, of Castello Cities Internet Network, owners of Nashville.com, PalmSprings.com and many other great geo and generic domain names, offered their own proven tips and fielded questions from an appreciative audience during a well-received lunchtime talk.

Michael Castello (left) and David Castello of Castello Cities Internet Network 
turned Saturday's luncheon into much more than a meal - giving attendees 
some geodomain tips they could really sink their teeth into.

After lunch two of the sharpest ladies you will ever find in any industry, Jessica Bookstaff Doppelt (PigeonForge.com) and Sara Mannix (Albany.com), took turns detailing how they have turned their multiple city .com websites into popular local destinations. These two are killing it in their markets and once again I came away from one of their talks feeling like those sessions alone were worth the trip.  

Jessica Bookstaff Doppelt
PigeonForge.com

Sara Manniix
MannixMarketing.com

Through her (and husband Mark's) Mannix Marketing, Sara is running several upstate New York city sites that are growing like wildfire (her staff now numbers over 30) and her proven methods for driving traffic to those sites will be adopted by many who heard her speak in Chicago.

The rapid emergence of mobile was also a big topic in the Windy City and there was a lot of advice for geodomain owners on how they could catch the mobile wave and use it to their advantage. The next two speakers,  Aimee Irwin of Verve Wireless and Sandy Martin of Schurz Communications (formerly Director of Mobile Intiatives for Borrell Associates) covered the subject from top to bottom. 

Aimee Irwin, Verve Wireless

Sandy Martin
Schurz Communications

That left only two opening day stones unturned. Rick Schneider of the Priceline Partner Network and Mike McDonnell, CEO at GeoPlatforms LLC and Captis Media Inc., took care of those. Schneider detailed how Priceline's white label hotel booking affiliate platform can supercharge geodomain site monetization while McDonnell covered Geo SEO, providing ways to win terms and drive more traffic to your sites. 

Rick Schneider
Priceline Partner Network

Mike McDonnell
GeoPlatforms LLC

Before the conference room cleared at the end of day one, I gathered the leadership of GeoPublishers.com together for a group photo. Let me introduce you to the new association's Board of Dorectors and its Executive Director:

The GeoPublishers.com Board of Directors (left to right): Michael Castello (CCIN.com), Peter Niederman (DenverRealEstate.com), Don Jones (NewOrleans.com), Jessica Bookstaff Doppelt (PigeonForge.com), Bill Hammack (NewOrleans.com), GeoPublishers.com Executive Director Andrew Martin, President Fred Mercaldo (Scottsdale.com), David Castello (CCIN.com) and Gordon Borrell (BorrellAssociates.com). There is one more board member who was unfortunately unable to attend - Scotland's Tommy Butler (Glasgow.com).

One thing I've always enjoyed about visiting Chicago is having a chance to hook up with Chicago.com owner Josh Metnick (who as I mentioned earlier, is the guy who first came up with the idea of an association of geodomain owners).  I got that opportunity again Saturday night (Oct. 1). First I joined Michael Castello (Nashville.com), Sean Miller (NewYorkCity.com) and Toby Hardy (FrenchRiviera.com) for dinner, then Michael, Sean and I arranged to meet up with Josh at a popular local lounge, The Aviary. Josh had not had dinner so we soon taxied to a nearby Irish pub to get him some nourishment. 

 

Good food, good conversation and good company in Chicago Saturday night 
 (Left to right): Josh Metnick (Chicago.com), Michael Castello (Nashville.com), 
Ron Jackson (DNJournal.com) and Sean Miller (NewYorkCity.com). (Oct. 1, 2011)

The inaugural GeoPublishers.com Expo concluded with a pair of sessions Sunday morning, Oct. 2, 2011. Forkfly.com CEO Paul Wagner got things started with an eye-opening talk about how to engage your audience through mobile products and social media integration. Mobile was a recurring theme throughout the weekend and it deserved to be. Wagner said 30% of all website traffic is now coming from mobile and that number is expected to climb to 50% in the next two years! 

A grand finale that lived up to its named followed with Gordon Borrell, founder of Borrell AssociatesColby Atwood (President, Borrell Associates) and Pete Conti (VP of Marketing, Borrell Associates) teaming to give attendees a knockout presentation absolutely stuffed with invaluable information on local markets and trends. Borrell Associates is America's top local media research company and their clients pay huge fees for  the kind of information the Borrell team dished out in the Expo's closing session.

Sunday's heroes: (above left) Gordon Borrell (Borrell Associates), (above right) Paul Wagner (Forkfly.com), (below) Pete Conti (left) and Colby Atwood (both representing Borrell Associates)

During his talk, Borrell, who serves on the GeoPublishers.com Board of Directors, promised continual improvements in the association's Expo going forward. This debut show was a good first step with its exceptionally strong programming and a first rate venue in a great city. It augurs well for geodomain owners who already have the wind at their backs - a position you have to envy.

The 2011 GeoPublishers.com Expo was officially history by noon on Sunday, but a few of us who had late flights out of town decided to get together and enjoy the fabulous fall weather in Chicago before heading to the airport to catch our evening flights. Page Howe (BestGeos.com) and Michael Cyger of DomainSherpa.com joined me for a jaunt that began in Millennium Park, just south of the Fairmont. One of the coolest things in the park is Cloudgate - a massive egg-shaped mirrored object that reflects everything around it in an infinite variety of ways. 

The ultra-cool Cloudgate in Chicago's Millennium Park Sunday (Oct. 2). The two guys in
the lower right corner are Michael Cyger (DomainSherpa.com) & Page Howe (BestGeos.com). 

There is an opening that allows you to walk underneath the "egg". While there I was fooled by the mirrored image and accidentally smashed my head into the metallic surface. Michael and Page thought that was hilarious. Me, not so much :-)  The entire time we were out walking Page was constantly looking up domain names on his smartphone, so I asked him to look up CloudgateHeadInjuryAttorney.com. They got a further chuckle out of that while I rubbed the knot on my forehead. 

From Millennium Park we headed over to the Navy Pier to have lunch at Harry Caray's (a treat for me because I spent many days hanging out with the late great baseball play by play man when I was a TV sportscaster. Harry was with the White Sox and I was the Sports Director at the ABC-TV station in Sarasota where the team held spring training. He was truly one of kind,)

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to collect our bags and headed off to the airport. I couldn't have asked for a more enjoyable and rewarding weekend than I got from the GeoPublishers.com Expo. It will be exciting to see what blossoms from the seeds planted at this event.

#####


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