Attending the 2020 Digital Marketers Organization Advanced Search Summit Conference in Napa

AdCavern - Ethan's advertising, marketing, business, and SEO leadership blog.

Last updated 08/27/23 ✧ First posted 08/27/23
~9 minutes to read.

I was lucky enough to attend the 2020 Advanced Search Summit conference held by the Digital Marketers Organization in Napa, CA. This trip also included a masquerade ball, an Italian castle, falcons, and a lot of wine.

A little more eventful than your average work trip, that’s for sure.

The Conference

Although the conference was called the Advanced Search Summit at the time, they quickly changed their name after this event—actually, during it. This is because, obviously, “Advanced Search Summit” abbreviates into ASS. Personally I think they should’ve ran with it, but I guess it might make it harder for people in finance to sign off on expensing tickets to ASSfest.

Oh well.

DMO festival conference hall with speaker powerpoint slides up

The conference had some really great talks. I think my favorite was from Grant Simmons, who also ended up being one of the neatest personalities I met all week.

Grant Simmons giving a great talk on SEO.

There was also a talk on how to use Tumblr for SEO and why it should still be thought of as viable in the 2020s. That talk was very funny to me, because in the 2010s I exploited Tumblr for SEO purposes so hard that the Tumblr staff had to patch their systems to plug all the loopholes I found. No one has ever used Tumblr for SEO as extreme as I have, and the talk at the DMO was about 10% of what I could’ve spoken on myself.

But I guess my lack of publicity and name recognition is why I’m just doing search, not speaking about it. Oh well.

The audience for a conference speaker at the digital marketers organization festival.

This was one of the emptier talks. Usually they were all full-up, but this one was held first thing in the morning after a long night of socializing and wine-drinking, so attendance was noticeably lighter.

The expert panels were great too. There were a lot of great speakers here.

Here’s a photo that someone else took, which includes ME watching an expert panel—I’m on the left, in the audience, in the red and white shirt.

Me, Ethan Hulbert, in attendance at the expert panels.

The conference was at the same hotel that we stayed at, the Meritage Resort. Here’s what that looked like.

One view of the Meritage Resort hotel room.

An opposite view of the Meritage Resort hotel room.

The Meritage also featured a nice bar and lounge area, as well as plenty of informal meeting spaces, a pool, and a big outdoor area with a firepit.

Let’s be real, most of the best networking and info-gain comes from the informal parts of these conferences. I met the most interesting people here, talked with people who ran the tools my company used, and learned more valuable information from these parts of the conference than anywhere else.

Tipsy digital marketers talking around a fire.

The conference itself was immensely valuable and I got a lot of directly beneficial insights out of it. But I don’t really have that much to say about it here because it’s not exactly very flashy.

So let’s move on to the other, more interesting benefits of the conference.

The Wine

Obviously, if we’re in Napa, we’re gonna get some wine.

First, the Digital Marketers Organization had a custom bottle of wine for all attendees. The Advanced Search Summit 2018 Bacon Ipsum Pinot Noir.

The Advanced Search Summit 2018 Bacon Ipsum Pinot Noir - custom bottle of wine.

To explain this joke, you have to know a few things.

First, “Lorem ipsum” is filler text. When you’re designing the layout to a website or whatever else, and you know that text will fill an area but don’t have the actual text written yet, you often use “Lorem ipsum,” an old essay in Latin that today we just see as a gibberish placeholder.

Text like this is used because it has differing word lengths and sentence lengths, so the spacing seems natural. If you just copy and paste, say, “Filler Text” over and over again, the uniform spacing distracts from the overall design.

For designers that want to add a little more fun and variety to their placeholder text, there are multiple other placeholder text generators out there. One popular generator is Bacon Ipsum, which just generates filler text from meat words.

Hence the Bacon Ipsum Pinot Noir, with the entertaining Bacon Ipsum description on the back:

Bacon Ipsum filler text on the back of the wine.

I love it! And I loved the wine, too.

The Digital Marketers Organization paired with Bouchaine Vineyards for this bottle as well as a whole host of events during the week of the festival.

Look at this place!!

Bouchaine Winery building in Napa, California.


Beyond the wine itself, we got amazing full tours of the vineyards and the processing plant. This was so fascinating, what a cool opportunity.

This includes the barrels, as well as the bottling process:

Wine barrels in the Bouchaine building.

The wine bottling process at Bouchaine Vineyards.

The DMO had an event here one day that was all streamed, I guess for other people who didn’t attend just to see what they were missing?

Here’s me taking a livestream selfie:

Ethan Hulbert projected on digital marketer zoom stream.

They also hired—get this—a freestyle rapper over livestream. And attendees fed in words related to digital marketing, SEO, their own business keywords, whatever, and then the rapper would make raps about them.

This was pretty insane to me.

Livestream digital marketing rapper??

I’m sure it was strange to the musician, too, probably one of the weirdest jobs he’s ever gotten. What an unusual idea.

It did let me make friends with another attendee around my age in the audience, Ava, regarding how strange the whole thing was.

I also got to meet Lily Ray, who’s one of my favorite people in SEO. That was so cool.

Just walking around the vineyards and the Bouchaine property was so gorgeous. The views were so much better than what I could capture in the camera.

A view of the fields from Bouchaine vineyards.

Search marketers wandering down to one of the Bouchaine vineyard buildings to party and network.

Naturally, there were shuttle vans ready to take us back and forth between the conference hotel and the winery, whenever we needed to go.

Shuttle van from Bouchaine to the Meritage.

Oh, and on our last day, for the VIP experience, we even had falconry lessons at the vineyard!

Me, Ethan, holding a falcon with a bird glove on.

I had never commanded a falcon before. This was a very neat new experience for me.

As if all the SEO talks and vineyard tours and wine and falcons weren’t enough, the main event of this conference was really the masquerade ball at the Italian castle.

The Castle Masquerade Ball

This was my first masquerade ball since COVID had hit, and I was so psyched. I’ve never went to one at a castle before!

Me, Ethan, outside the Italian castle, wearing a black tuxedo, bowtie, nice shirt, pocket square, and spiky chain epaulets.

I love it when I have the opportunity to break out my tux!! And I don’t normally wear bow-ties, but this was a rare appropriate occasion. I went with a spikier theme here, so I pinned on my chain spike epaulets, wore some spiked studs around my wrists, and wore a spike mask when I had the full face mask on as well.

My full outfit:

ethan hulbert full formal tuxedo with spikes, chains, masquerade mask, etc

I love getting a chance to wear my good red shoes too. What a great time.

The castle we went to is called Castello di Amorosa. It was founded by a vintner named Dario Sattui in the 1990s. Dario was inspired by his Italian heritage to build a genuine 13th-century-style castle and vineyard that would transport all guests to a different time.

Dario started construction in 1994, and it opened in 2007. It features a drawbridge, defensive walls, towers, a great hall, and even dungeons. Construction required a much bigger investment than Dario had expected, resulting in locals referring to the project as “Dario’s folly.” However, it was well worth the effort, at least in my opinion.

Here are some shots of the outdoor portions of Castello di Amorosa:

Castello di Amorosa castle exterior front door Castello di Amorosa defensive stone walls, moat, forest Atop the stone walkways of Castello di Amorosa castle. Tower or castle turret of Castello di Amorosa. Further Castello di Amorosa castle detail.

Ava and I explored a fair amount of the castle together, and Grant Simmons took our picture on top of one of the towers!

Ethan, Ava, Castello di Amorosa tower.

They also began setting up for our grand dinner in the interior courtyard.

Inner castle courtyard buffet tables during the daytime.

Before dinner, we also got to explore the inner tunnels and catacombs of the castle, including the dungeons, with various weapons, torture devices, cathedral areas, suits of armor, and barrels of wine.

Here are some interior shots:

Frescoes and additional castle space inside Castello di Amorosa. Amazing arched stone dungeon ceiling and walls in the Castello di Amorosa dungeon. The castle gift store, a suit of armor, and Ava in the Castello di Amorosa dungeon. Wine barrel storage in the Castello di Amorosa basement. Ava with a longsword in the weapons room of Castello di Amorosa. An Iron Maiden torture device with sculpture in the Castello di Amorosa castle dungeons.

I was very entertained by the cute symbolism on the signage, showing the fields of the Exit path, or the forking over of your gold coins in the Cashier path.

Medieval signs with symbolism.

The castle also had this huge wall fresco depicting Satan, and various devils and demons torturing people in Hell and otherwise going about their day-to-day dark routines. I love this kind of stuff! I got Ava to take my photo in front of it.

Ethan J. Hulbert in front of Medieval Satan wall fresco.

It was especially neat going to a masquerade ball at an Italian castle because masquerades are basically Italian in heritage too. They were a huge thing back in 15th-century Venice. (Unrelated to this, I’d actually be in Venice myself a few weeks after this event.)

The castle dinner was fit for a king.

Nighttime dinner and wine at the castle, lit by overhead lights and blue lanterns. Ethan James Hulbert in a suit and bowtie and spikes at the castle masquerade ball dinner at night.

Overall, it was a wonderful few days of a marketing conference. Apart from all the festivities, I really did learn a lot, and actually took some direct benefit back home to my clients the next week.

Looking forward to doing this again sometime.

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Written by Ethan J. Hulbert.

AdCavern - Ethan's advertising, marketing, business, and SEO leadership blog.

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