There has been a flurry of comment recently about how Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is either dead, or in the process of being violently clubbed to death by Google.
The argument is best summed up in this Forbes article which says that traditional SEO is being subsumed by content marketing as a result of Google’s algorithm updates which prioritises community value and interaction over inbound links. We are told that the future is PR not SEO.
SEO as a practice is evolving in response to a changing market, as it has always done. When I first discovered SEO in the 1990s, the main activity at the time was stuffing keywords on a page with the same colour foreground test and background text. This was less optimisation and more a straight rip-off where the consumer was generally the loser.
Like an adolescent man child forced to get a job, learn how to shave, and wear a pair of big boy pants, search engine optimisation has been forced to mature into a practice which emphasises optimisation over underhanded subterfuge. US digital agency, iAcquire recently blogged that they had “really become a creative shop” after being removed from the Google Index for some dubious link building practices. They should have really called themselves a digital optimisation shop rather than a creative shop because that’s what SEO has grown up into.
Sure content marketing is the thing right now, not digital optimisation. Businesses are rightly scurrying around trying to develop quality, relevant, and real content that folks like enough to share with their community. Everyone is playing the PR game because it sounds really easy to build “real content”.
The reality is that there is a lot of content being developed that could benefit from a pinpoint focus that is less PR and more digital. Businesses should be using the power of big data to identify who to target and how they want to be targeted. The Facebook social graph is nothing more than a window into big data and should be used more widely than the write, post, and shoot in a scattergun approach. This is why the big digital agencies could slowly start to win the SEO game with well targeted campaigns backed by original and creative content. Nothing says share me like something funny, controversial, or topical, and creating that kind of stuff isn’t easy.
The corner shop SEO cannot compete with this kind of talent. All they can do is rinse and repeat – build links, get the site structure right, optimise pages and I guess explain to their clients why what they are doing is not working like it used to.
What they should be doing is building communities, not PR. Let’s face it, even if you believe half the shareaholic metrics, Google, Yahoo!, and Bing are less relevant than they were a year ago and this trend is likely to continue.
This is why digital optimisation is the future for SEO. Good SEO has always been about optimisation, about making things better, about making pages more targeted, about making content more semantic, more accessible, about making shopping carts easier to use, pages easier to navigate. This is the old internal SEO, the kind of thing that SEO’s do first to make sure there are no technical impediments to a site ranking. Now it will be a continuous process and have a wider focus – macro and micro conversion optimisation, social optimisation, and also process optimisation. The message from Google is that high quality sites will rank higher which means that a bad customer experience that results in negative social media comments could result in a drop in rankings as well as an immediate financial and reputation loss.
So rather than seeing SEO as dead, I reckon we’re due for an explosion of digital optimisation in response to the challenge of social business, ecommerce, and of course the omnipresent Google.
What do you think?