The Death of SEO

Author: Ken Krogue @ Forbes

I had lunch back in March with Adam Torkildson, one of the top SEO consultants in Utah and one of the best in the country.

He said something to me that blew me away. “Google is in the process of making the SEO industry obsolete, SEO will be dead in 2 years.”

I posted his statement on my blog and immediately received a flurry of comments; many from his colleagues in the SEO industry who wanted to:

1.Weigh in on my statement that Adam is great (or crazy)

2.Promote themselves

3.Accuse me of writing a title for “link bait”

4.Declare how absurd Adam’s assertion was

5.Agree and prophecize their vision for the future

I have often used the (recently re-proven) phrase from the bomber pilots in World War II, “The flak only gets heavy when you’re over the target.”

Adam’s explanation about his claim made a lot of sense. I’ll quickly summarize and add some background information.

“SEO” means Search Engine Optimization.

There is internal and external SEO. Internal makes up about 15% of the process (I’m told it may be much higher now) and it means to design your site so it follows the best practices proven to rank high on Google. External SEO used to mean to write articles, press releases, blogs, comments, and content with embedded keyword “backlinks” to your site. Now it is changing fast to include social media strategies.

SEO has been traditionally divided into “white hat” or “black hat.” Black Hat is the obvious villainous practice of gaming the system by doing things to raise rankings that Google doesn’t want, and White Hat is just more subtle.

But what does Google want? They want relevant, real content on the internet that people want to read and tell other people about. If Google doesn’t bring you the most relevant content when you search they aren’t doing their job.

So by definition even the word Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means to “game” the Google search engines (and others) to get your valuable content ranked higher than it would be if left alone to the forces of the Web.

Google proved Adam right one month later (to the day) with the “Penguin release” that is a code name for the algorithm that decreased search engine rankings of companies who were using schemes to artificially increase their rankings. Google decided to change the weight of their emphasis from “backlinks” more towards social media likes, shares, tweets, reddits, and 1+ (Googles obvious favorite.) In the world of digital media the emphasis is on follows, comments, and views as well. (Note: I have changed the wording slightly to clarify my meaning and make it more precise since I wrote it four days ago.)

What does that mean? Google used to think if you linked to someone on the Internet they must have valuable content. Now Google seems to believe that if you promote content with social media it is more indicative of relevant content and less likely to be faked. Though many point out social can be faked as well.

The bottom line is that all external SEO efforts are counterfeit other than one:

Writing, designing, recording, or videoing real and relevant content that benefits those who search.

If you generate content and place it all over the web promoting and linking to your specific content, it is obviously fake. (And that is basically a big part of the history of the SEO industry, both black and white.)

And hey, I’ve done it myself. That is how I met Adam in the first place.

It is the overly aggressive marketers that always spoil it for everyone. Mmmm, let’s see… false advertisers, telemarketing at dinner time with predictive dialers, unsolicited faxing, email spamming, now SEO.

It was Seth Godin that said “all marketers are liars,” I’m a marketer, so I can say this.  I think it means that if you have to advertise a lot to change perceptions, it’s probably being “spun.” Think media, the lack of advertising on fruit and vegetables, and the current presidential race.

Adam told me that it is hardly about the links anymore, it’s about the metrics of engagement on your site.

It’s about social “shares”, and you can’t fake that (easily). Now with recent policy changes, Google knows who everyone is once they open themselves up on the social realm. They will be able to tell the fake people. Facebook already knows. Adam did a test by creating 1000 fake accounts a year ago, but today they have all been banned.

I asked him how they figured it out, he said “I’m pretty smart, but I have no idea. That’s why they hire PhD’s! That’s why Google bought Twitter’s data. They failed to get Facebook data, but they rely on Facebook’s internal API. Now social signals are a much bigger part of the Google algorithm.” He continued, “I’ve already seen them using it, I know.”

So what do we do?

Adam grinned with resignation, “It’s the Hubspot strategy of great blog content with a massive opt-in audience of social followers. It’s your InsideSales.com approach with strong industry research that people follow. And it’s old-school PR. PR has made a full-on 180 degree swing. I started in PR as a major. Now it is the ultimate, because it is about who you actually, really, know. It’s the buzz you create. And how much value you provide your community of followers in return.”

I summarized:

“So great content is king, and communities of avid followers make the king? And my friend Cheryl, of SnappConner PR will rule the world?”

“Yes, basically.” Adam went on, “Dell does a really good job. They have 1M followers on just one account in Twitter. Their team answers all direct messages from their community, and stays on top of their brand and reputation.”

I asked, “So how has this affected you?”

“We hardly do any of the old SEO stuff. It still brings results, but not like it used to. Google is pulling the rug out to provide better search for their audience. They are routing out the counterfeiters. Now it must be real, valuable, content, and lot’s of community value and interaction.”

So how does it affect entrepreneurs and business executives?

Simple.

Invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants. Grow your internal thought leaders to where they can add value to your audience and positioning in the market. Follow internal SEO practices to make sure it is found and sees the light of day. Take the time to make it so compelling so people talk about it and share it.

Look to real social media community support, compelling PR, and real content; for that is where true SEO practitioners are turning more and more also.

Common sense, but not common practice.

Five lip biting SEO myths…

Author: Mark Cook. Econsultancy.

The SEO field has some great thought leaders who work hard to share their knowledge and data with the community. Despite this, after nine years working in the field, I still see some horrible misinformation published on an alarmingly regular basis.

So, with the help of Twitter, these are the five SEO myths to see buried in 2011…more

View From the Spire: Star Mangled Banner

Proving that even the experts sometimes get in wrong, Christina (wot no more Xtina?) Aguilera fluffed a line as she excruciatingly belted out her version of the US National anthem that opened the recent Super Bowl final.

When she should have (obviously) sung “O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming” she ad-libbed on an earlier line claiming afterwards that “she got lost in the moment”. And I would think it easy to “get lost” at the prospect of performing such an important job infront of 110 million avid supporters around the globe let alone the brown trousering fear of 103,000 Cheesehead and Steelers fans in a newly built Cowboys Stadium in Texas. This ones for you Mariah Carey…

But she is one of the lucky ones; being able to make a mistake and get away with it by simply carrying on to the finish – at worst denting US pride and slightly upsetting the event organiser!

However, mistakes by business “experts” occur all too frequently too but often with farther reaching consequences. Unlike Christina’s mishap, it seems in business it is not just a question of just getting to the end (the “end” is surely business closure?) it is ensuring that you complete the task.

For starters, it is easy to be an expert – especially in a recession with so many good corporate people out of work turning their hands to some level of service provision; and it is far too easy to make mistakes (we all know that). Put the two together and depending on the situation, the inevitable mistake is blindingly obvious – like a bum note in a Les Dawson piano ditty, or an excocet missile – you know that it is coming but can do bugger all about it!

Take eCommerce and search engine optimisation: apparently every ones an expert. Paying experts to focus on SEO wont make you money if at core you don’t have the products that people want to part with their hard earned money for. A test: if your business is not viable with Adwords, you’re likely throwing good money after bad and I may even be so bold as to say that the same goes for your effort in online business – regardless of the experts you use! I had it suggested to me recently that SEO is an emergent property of eCommerce – and I think that that is largely right!

Then consider design and web development. Eye candy wins every time doesn’t it? If it looks nice and has nice coloured buttons with nice text – thats enough yeah? Money flies in, customers will be happy and you can plan your retirement where its warm?

Some design experts will seduce you with flattering design – it might make you proud or great to be a part of something as good looking as a flashy website, it may give you something to brag to your mates about down The Dog and Whistle, but it’s no guarantee of your businesses success. Only then will you think – how did that design agency suck us in? And then you remember the line…“Look how wonderful our design agency is – we work with RBS…” (Doesn’t every bloody design agency do work with RBS?).

To illustrate the point – take a look at the most aesthetically of appealing websites – then look at eBay. Which would you rather be yours? One of them has greater income than some Countries!

Lastly take the examples of social media and networking. Do you know exactly what this is? Do you know what it could do? Do you know how it will help your business? Its a complex thing (if you are of a certain age) and built for kids isn’t it? And it’s about sending funny videos to your pals, tweeting a bit (whatever that is) and creating a Facebook page isn’t it?

Social media is one small part of Sales and Marketing. It’s one of its many channels – and like the others, it needs constant attention and requires that you cast the net wide using all the channels available to you. However the relevant audience for your products should be crucial in any decision to focus on this as part of your marketing strategy.

In this piece, I am not here to pick on business experts in these three sectors – or any sector for that matter. I’m actually advocating a little patience and understanding in your business. I am a big promoter of undertaking due diligence, knowing a little about the work yourself and ultimately having a grand plan and sticking to it. I see so many people jumping in to SEO, web design or social networking having heard friends and colleagues talk about it. These areas of promotion are often very helpful and often lucrative elements of business but will not make a difference unless part of a greater effort across all areas of your business.

I am equally a believer in trying some of these things yourself – experience a little of social networking – read some blogs and forums; you will understand the concept quickly and be better informed to understand the potential as part of your greater vision. Then invite the experts to help you in this field and be better positioned to ensure a greater return on the investment in these areas.

In these examples, my experience is that you would be hard pushed to find a real tangible ROI for any work that is undertaken in each area in isolation. A focus in any one of these areas may on any given day work, although on another, it also may not – often the expertise, and even potential lack of it will be irrelevant. Either way, do your homework and know what you are getting into long before you sign on any experts dotted line.

I believe in a business that wants to make the best commercial success of itself – with or without a flashy website, outsourced SEO or use of social networks – it is the financials at month and year end ONLY that matter.

We all apparently make mistakes. And so if, like Christina, we are all prone to making mistakes in our performance, or take the wrong business turn or make the wrong commercial judgement what really only matters is how we manage the fall out, how we reposition ourselves and how quickly we get back on track.

Experts actually know their stuff – and in most cases to a phenomenal level that is worthy of your investment in time, effort and money as they are capable of delivering fantastic results for many business whatever the sector. It is up to you to understand some of what they say and can do in order to best utilise their talents within your business vision.