In January, I wrote a post on what topics I felt would become big themes for 2007 in search engine marketing. I still feel that all of these topics, Web Analytics, Competitive Analysis and Social Media, are all critical to our ability to our being a high value service to businesses and website owners, but I may have missed one important idea that has been building in my mind, probably since before Google's IPO.
What will search engine marketing - or specifically, search engine optimization become, and can it survive as an industry?
In recent months and in various ways, SEO experts have been debating this topic a great deal, whether or not it directly begs the question at hand. The topic really became visible in late 2006, after Dave Pasternack's article came out questioning the value in SEO. This conversation escalated through the forums of search discussions and was even addressed by Danny Sullivan in his rebuttal article, "Yes Virginia, SEO is Rocket Science".
But the debate about what brings value out of SEO has been talked about in our industry before Pastnernack offered his opinion. In early 2006, Social Patterns asked the question of why "Large SEO Firms Suck?", which emphasized Jim Boykin's thoughts on page tagging as well as Rand Fishkin's conversation with Dana Melick. Clickz contributor Shari Thurow offered a good outline for identifying a well rounded set of skill sets that distinguish qualified SEO professionals from the amateur SEO shop, including usability experience, copywriting and web development/IT expertise. That article came out in 2005, when many people were just realizing that reciprocal links weren't as valuable and maybe you should have more than just your product information on your website for content.
Within the past couple months, SEOmoz posted a definition of the SEO expert and SEOBook challenged the notion that SEO is the only industry trying to capitalize on a customer base. Meanwhile, SEO names such as Jim Boykin, Jeremy Shoemaker and Todd Malicoat, "Stuntdubl", have begun embracing social media because they realize that these sites drive traffic, have millions of users and offer a high potential for obtaining inbound links. These discussions and the visibility of SEO's utilizing new opportunities online all contribute to an existing undercurrent:
What does SEO become in the near and distant future? Can SEO survive?
Most of my in depth discussion on the topic has been around a local watering hole in Davis Square or at 8PM in the conference room at KoMarketing Associates on a Wednesday when I wanted to home by 7. Meaning, I haven't been discussing this on a personal level with the aforementioned names above, all of which I read fairly regularly. I was at the inaugural SEMNE meeting a couple weeks ago and listened to a great presentation by Fredrick Marckini which helped revitalize some of my own thoughts on the business of search engine optimization.
So my answers to the questions above:
- To the second question: "Yes" SEO will survive.
- To the first question (which requires the longer explanation): SEO will become whatever strategy is required to bring people searching for your product or service, to your website, your contact form, your payment authorization page, your email inbox and your sales staff.
Marckini stressed the notion of reaching out to vertical markets directly or indirectly related to traditional search engines, such as local search, social media sites and niche search offerings (such as news search, video etc). He suggests this because search engines like Google and Yahoo can only become incrementally better at how they rank and prioritize search results based on variables and factors related to their algorithms. That comment precludes an assumption that eventually people will no longer use a search engine to find what they are looking for. In fact, search engines will just become an integrated component of any mechanism/product or service that an individual uses.
I agree with Marckini's conclusions (which echo other leaders thoughts on the industry). I believe that as long as people are searching for anything, and using Internet technology to do so, search engine optimization will be required, because businesses need to know why search technology ranks or does not rank their information ahead of the competition for whatever mechanism presents search results. More importantly, as Google, Yahoo and other search technologies strive to integrate themselves into the everyday applications we use, SEO professionals are the ones that understand what factors make or break website visibility in search.
That means that if integrating video tutorials into YouTube brings your business quality traffic, leads, and referrals, it will transcend to how Google values your website overall. If your images will provide you a growing appreciation from the audience in Flickr, Yahoo will take notice. If the community at Digg, "Digg's" your articles and information, you will probably generate both traffic and inbound links, which transcend to long-term SEO success. If your website has valuable content, a user-friendly design and experience, engages the visitor effectively, and your business is using web analytics to identify statistics like page views, bounce rates and average length of time on site, you have a better shot at succeeding in Google's personalized search.
Search Engine Optimization - Beyond 2007
As long as people are searching for something, using Internet technology, there will be a need to understand what the mechanisms are that prioritize search results. Search engine optimization becomes a practice of understanding where not only users, but users potentially interested in your information, will be online, what sites they visit, where their questions are being answered and what tools they are already using to find information like yours. As technology evolves and changes, our job as SEO professionals is to identify and utilize the emerging tools and resources available that will drive traffic, visitors and improved search engine rankings to your website. People will not stop searching, but the sources of information that influence results will.