SEO is dead, long live Social Media?

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.

20 thoughts on “SEO is dead, long live Social Media?

  • I can’t agree any more. SEO consultants say turn out page after page of irrelevant crap that only interest ROBOTS or maybe computer weenies. Writing and sharing interesting useful content is what creates online word-of-mouth, buzz, pop – whatever you may want to call it.

    Companies should look long and hard at the thousands they pay for SEO and start diverting some of the budget to Social Media Optimization. What delivers the ROI that matters – relationships, conversations (i.e. read start of sales cycles) brand value leads and other real business metrics.

    Do look at some of my comments on the subject at:

    Thanks for spreading the word.


  • I’d disagree that SEO is on the way out wholesale. Certainly some of the less important practices will be, and the focus may shift onto the users themselves to optimize their content.

    But at the end of the day, great content will only get you readers if people can find you. While social media networking makes this easier, there are still millions out there for whom social media means nothing. These are the people who will need SEO and search engines to find what they’re looking for.

  • I’m hot and bothered about this. SMO or WebPR or Web2.0 PR directly build up sales funnels – which is super important in today’s economy.

  • SEO is not currently in vogue with “Web 2.0” and “blogger” types and and it’s not as sexy as social media marketing…

    But it’s incredibly vital to millions of “real” businesses – e-commerce shops, local businesses, corporate websites – that live or die by the quantity and quality of the web traffic they receive.

    I hear from dozens of people desperate to improve their SEO situation every month, and I know the number of web-based businesses will triple by 2018…so I’d bet my left pinkie that this line of work has an amazing future.

    Because demand for SEO services greatly exceeds the number of qualified professionals who exist, a lot of dangerously incompetent people have stepped up, claiming to be SEOs, and they have spread a lot of misconceptions about SEO about what the work actually involves. It’s just not about title tags and keywords, that is just the tippy-tip of the 101 iceberg πŸ˜‰ Website architecture remodeling, duplicate content, cloaking, PageRank sculpting, canonical issues, redirects and URL rewriting, conversion design, and especially link building are a huge part of modern SEO work.

    The reason I am personally wanting to shift gears is because SEO it is incredibly demanding, tedious, time-consuming work… It moves quickly, so taking a month off of SEO is like taking a year off of most other computer disciplines…

    At heart I am more of a writer and content creator.. and I feel intense passion for social media.. so I am going to follow my bliss that way.. but SEO is something that will a critical part of web marketing for a long, long time to come πŸ˜‰

  • SEO will die the same day that Search Engines die.

    Folks that claim SEO is dead or on it’s way out are misinterpreting the term SEO for the current strategies employed in SEO.

    We will always need to find ways to optimize our pages and our inbound links so that Google (& Yahoo & MSN) find us relevant enough to present to their searchers.

    A better way to state this is that SEO is changing and the techniques necessary to be “considered relevant” are changing and involving social media more and more. Google is looking to social media to help them identify relevance.

  • SEO as a profession is dead, dying, on its way out. Because SEO doesnt have a specific expertise that requires education or talent, it should be dispersed throughout organizations and the responsibility of SEO should be shared.

    Companies that “get this” will blossom and succeed in terms of driving organic traffic in a way that a external consultant could never provide.

    Its not surprising that SEO consultants think I am wrong. Also, there will always be consultants in a space where its easy to convince companies of the need of a service that should be integrated rather than separate.

    Andrea, Im glad I got your writing juices flowing again! Its always great to see people thoughts…

    • >Im glad I got your writing juices flowing again!

      You did, Micah! AND, you’ve got me considering to add Lijit back onto my site.. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  • SEO SMM PPC Damn! I remembered when they said SEO would be dead when PPC got big. I strongly believe as long as there are search engines SEO will be needed.

    SMM has made SEO so much easier for me it’s insane. Parasite Marketing, VSEO and aggregation has made SEO definitely less time consuming.

    SEO is Dead Son……
    Who cares if SEO goes by the way side smart marketers have already made moves way past that and our deep in SMM. The key is SEO peeps use their skill set learned from that craft and incorporate it in SMM and other creative social marketing techniques.

    It reminds me of a running back who is a great runner and then becomes good at receiving. Now he is a double threat. Until SEO is dead(I doubt it) most smart marketers will be a double threat and be able to offer SEO and SMM.

    I consulted with a company where PPC and SEO worked great and SMM sucked. Then another company SEO and SMM worked and PPC’s ROI was to costly. I think industry makes a difference.

    Oh by the way in my SEO endeavors I never made up pages that didn’t have meaning and could not be read by a regular humans. That is just bad optimization

    Just so ya know I am not a BS person you can look my rankings up on Google ‘internet music marketing’ under, ‘video internet marketing’ ‘fort lauderdale photographers’ all top 10 for pretty competitive words. I used SMM,VIM and SEO to make that happen. So instead asking the question is SEO Dead? The better question is can you incorporate SMM and SEO together and improve both results.

    I have handled million dollar PPC accounts, have had 1000’s of words ranked in the search engines and have tested and signed up for 500+ social websites. I am an Internet Marketer I don’t care what’s going I need to know whats coming.

  • The SEO is dead mantra has been around for a long time, and sadly, those that profess it are often operating under poor assumptions, such as, SEO is full of scam artists, or a poor understanding of what SEO actually is.

    One could make the case that brands could stop hiring copywriters as well. After all, don’t we all know the English language? But the copywriting industry is safe and always will be.

    A few points to consider, from a company perspective many don’t have the time or desire to be experts in how search engines index sites. Search agencies fill that void for some by staying on top of industry changes so clients don’t have to, the same way agencies stay on top of marketing trends etc, or developers stay on top of new technologies.

    Also consider that the web moves volumes faster than search engines do. While many walk about touting Web 2.0 expertise (which I think is a sham/marketing term), engines still wrestle with “Web 1.0” factors.

    Yes, content is king and always will be, but Google is not even close to cracking content out of anything resembling 2.0 technology. I was just at a search conference this week where engineers made that point painfully clear again, as they have been saying since 2001.

    Those who see SEO as inserting keywords in content and complaining about flash have such a limited understanding, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    Did Microsoft Frontpage put developers out of business? Did anyone proclaim design is dead?

    SEO is about branding and marketing using search engines as the vehicle. The same way another marketer might use a print ad, a billboard, or a TV spot.

  • I started designing websites about 12 years ago. “Website Design” back then was writing up some html with Notepad. Then it got real snazzy with Front Page. But just because making websites in Notepad is not the best way to go these days (for some, I guess) that didn’t mean that website design was going to die and something new spring up. However, a new way of designing sites sprang up, and up and up!

    All of these different options to market a business remind me of my closet. I am a pack-rat (TMI, i know…) and it seems that that’s how marketing is. Nothing gets forever thrown away. Newspaper didn’t die when radio came along, radio when TV came along, TV with the Internet…. you get my drift. But we don’t use them the way we did back in the the olden days. We’ll keep piling on these mediums & methods and perhaps put ourselves into a conundrum: What do we do? What do we use? Too many choices?

    The upside is that now that we have so many options – SEO, PPC, SMM, XYZ – we can come at our challenges in a variety of ways. One problem with that, as Bret stated, is that it is so ever and quickly changing that it is hard to keep up. But its fun trying!

    I work with a client who does photo prints. They have machinery that used to bring in 10’s of thousands of dollars of revenue a month. But with advances in technology, that $10k piece of equip barely brings in 4 grand a YEAR now – and this happened in less than 10 years! But they keep it, because no one else has it. And every now and then someone needs the service it provides. AND the fact that they still can do it makes them unique. So, so far, its worth keeping.

    I don’t think SEO is dead or will go away. The old ways of doing it will, right into the Recycle Bin with html on Notepad. But, every now and then, someone will take it off the shelf dust it and put it to use.

  • I really don’t think that SEO will be going anywhere anytime soon. I actually think that it is starting to thrive. Businesses need it, large or small. Without SEO, and great content on the site, businesses could all be in trouble.

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