Yesterday at the Thin Air Summit, I attended a panel entitled “Search Engine Optimization with New Media.” Panelists were Brett Borders, Elizabeth Yarnell and John Fischer, and the session was moderated by Micah Baldwin.
The presentation consisted of a slide overview by Brett, some general recommendations by the other panelists, and then a few brave audience members submitted their URLs for review.
This is the second time I’ve heard Brett speak, and I am always impressed with his depth of knowledge. At lunch he’d mentioned that he’s actually looking to shift from reputation management and SEO to social media promotion.
This shift makes sense to me, although I don’t feel as strongly as Micah, who, after the conference, boldly stated on twitter that If you do SEO for a living, you will be out of business or irrelevant in 3 years.
He elaborated in a blog post today, that he feels that “the act of SEO – adjusting the code and content of a website with the primary purpose to be ranked highly in search results, is on its way out.”
For me, a site optimized for a search engine that employs clear language, semantically-correct mark-up and content that can be interpreted by a non-human reader is going to offer a better user experience for everyone.
One of the fundamental premises of social media is the notion of reputation and recommendation. Before the Internet, we looked to our local social circle for advice or guidance. With the Internet came this glut of information, and we had access to much more information. The challenge is no longer “search”, it’s “filter”. I can find hundreds or thousands of results to my query, but how do I find those that are most relevant or informative? We are now looking back to our social circles for guidance in these matters: the difference is that our social circles now have the possibility to be significantly larger.
So is SEO still relevant? Yes, because someone still needs to be the initial “finder” of the information. Optimizing a site for search engines can help humans find and categorize content, as well. How often do you run a search for a specific article or site you know you’ve seen before? Search is not only for the discovery of new content, it can also serve to recover previously visited content. Yet if you don’t recall the exact terminology on the site, or all the content of the site is cloaked in images, your task will be more difficult.
As content providers, do we not want our content to be available to anyone who wishes to find it? Therefore, we would do well to optimize: for search engines, for screen readers, for human consumers. It’s not just search engines that benefit from a well-crafted title tag, so too do the people you want to attract.
Some of the folks I heard from this weekend stated simply that SEO was boring, and social media was more interesting. But the enjoyment of performing a job should not be correlated with the necessity of its completion. Creating a site that is easily indexed and recoverable is never a negative thing, although I will admit that there are other factors that should also be considered in site design, development and promotion.
Micah’s perspective appeared hinged on the fact that SEO should not be the duty of an external consultant or agency, which does fall in line with my views of user experience and accessibility. These are core principles that should be considered throughout the project, from inception through implementation. But I feel it is not suffering from death, but rather on the cusp of a rebirth of legitimacy, wherein planning for accessibility and indexability will become standard practice.