It’s almost trite to say that you need to be found and ranked highly by Google. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is very important. Many of even the slowest moving parts of the traditional media and marketing sectors industries, like PR and advertising, now see that too.
But for some time now I have wondered about the added value of traditional SEO practices, and whether in fact SEO as a discipline is not in terminal decline.
SEO is being being replaced by another practice. Let me explain why SEO is in decline and what will replace it.
The SEOBOOK blog also recently wondered about the future of SEO:
SEO came about soon after the advent of the web crawler. The commercial imperative was obvious – where there was web traffic, there was money to be made. Positioning a page first in the engines was pretty much a licence to print money.
Still is, of course.
But they continued:
“In 2009, SEO plays fall into three distinct categories.
* Agency model: people offer services to others for a fee.
* Affiliate model: people gather traffic and funnel it somewhere else for a performance fee.
* Content model: people generate content and make money off advertising.
The last model is, I’m guessing, is one a lot of SEOs will pursue. Many do so now. “
That most SEOs will make their money from content may come as a startling prediction. But not if you consider these three developments killing traditional SEO:
- Many platforms and frameworks for web development currently come out of the box SEO primed;
- Some activity does not happen on the open web – take Facebook – and when it does, the page and the link is not its primary unit (yet). Take Twitter as another example.
- The most successful long term SEO technique is called Linkbait and it’s got little to do with SEO.
Many platforms and frameworks for web development currently come out of the box SEO primed
Are you doing eCommerce? Magento is one of the great new eCommerce platforms and it does what you would want SEO wise. Each product has its own page and link and the Title, Headings,… tags are sorted in accordance with SEO best practise.
Matt Cutts, head of search quality at Google reckons WordPress is the best search engine optimised blog platform and in a video he tells exactly why it is a fantastic SEO choice. WordPress is of course now the platform of choice for much more than just blogs.
What about other web publishing platforms? I’m no Joomla expert, but as far as I can tell it is also SEO-ready without too much additional effort.
Put frankly, anybody building such a CMS, blogging or eCommerce platform that does not integrate SEO best practice is foolish. See how the mighty Flash is struggling for survival today. There’s only one reason. Search engines can’t make sense of Flash in spite of lots of people trying to make it SEO friendly.
It is fair to say that only when building a completely bespoke website or when significant mods to existing frameworks are done that SEO expertise needs to be on hand.
Some activity does not happen on the open web and when it does, the page and the link is not its primary unit (yet)
Facebook is huge. Facebook wants its members to be more open and expose their users’ Walls, Status Updates and Photo Albums to the open Web.
But it is a tall order to get users to change their habits when part of Facebook’s success was the exclusivity of interacting only with your crowd.
The majority of activity on Facebook is still hidden from Google and despite Facebook’s best intentions this is unlikely to change soon.
And outside Facebook there are other problems for search engines. Says the SEOBOOK:
Consider social media. Is a page the basic unit of Twitter? No, it’s the sentence. How about Youtube? The video. Social networks? The person. All can be extracted, re-purposed and dis-intermediated without losing meaning.
And then there’s the problem of the real time web.
When Michael Jackson died, Google was beaten to the punch by Twitter and Wikipedia for a couple of hours. So far the real time web remains out of SEO’s reach. Yes, Google now integrates Tweets into its results, but are they ranked? No. Then it’s outside the domain of SEO.
Conclusion? SEO is still very important but its reach does no longer cover everything.
The success of Linkbait – Linkbait is not SEO
The highly respected SEOMoz blog recently evaluated the continued significance of Linkbait as an SEO strategy even when other techniques are failing or changing.
“There have been more than a few debates and suppositions over the years about the potential value of linkbait/viral content strategies and whether search engines will always reward these practices. Today (actually, it’s late at night here in Oslo), I wanted to tackle this debate and succinctly present reasons why I believe this methodology will remain powerful and effective in the long run.”
But hang on – what the hell is Linkbait? If you’re thinking it’s some uber-complicated strategy requiring sophisticated technical know-how you’re very wrong.
British SEO expert Patrick Altoft explains what Linkbait is:
Linkbait is the practise of adding content to websites with the aim of attracting links from other sites. The content can take various forms, from a unique tool, or a breaking news story, to a well written article to a controversial image.
This simple definition should send bells ringing. No, the definition is not wrong. But what kind of people do you want to hire to create so-called Linkbait? SEO experts?
A good journalist smells of Linkbait. A film director reeks of it. Calling Linkbait an SEO strategy is like calling war a kind of politics. Perhaps it is a kind of politics, but it does not describe the kind of things that happen in a war effectively. In a war you need a different set of skills and mindset than in vanilla politics.
Why does Google like Linkbait?
Because it follows the model of how Google’s search works. Namely that it’s a meritocratic selection engine, which treats links likes votes. Not unlike Digg if you think about it. In short, search is a social form of voting and good Linkbait respects that model.
In this video – which we have posted before – Matt Cutts, head of Search Quality at Google explains Linkbait and how effective and cheap it can be to use.
Linkbait encourages creativity
What kind of Linkbait has proven to be successful? A recent SEOMoz study asked this question in the context of blogs. This is what they found:
* Content is the most important thing to a post, but posts with extra visual content attract extra links.
* Adding simple visual content, like lists and images, can increase the number of (Independent Linking Domains) ILDs by good percent.
* Posts with videos will attract almost 3 times more ILDs than a plain text post.
* Posts with all three media types (videos, images, and lists) will attract almost 6 times more ILDs than a plain text post.
* Contrary to common beliefs, large posts seem to attract more links than posts with 900 words or less.
* Posts with between 1800 and 3000 words will attract more than 15 times more ILDs than a post with less than 600 words.
To summarise it. Content attracts links. And content that’s well organized attracts even more links.
If you want to play the Linkbait game really well you’re going to look to hire copywriters, journalists, photographers, editors, animators, videographers and yes even media-savvy programmers – the so-called creative technologists. (The New York Times recently laid off staff and hired two dozen programmers.)
In short, Linkbait requires content skills, not search engine optimization skills.
But is SEO’d content itself really all it is cracked up to be?
I’m going to – reluctantly – drive one more stake through SEO’s heart. Pay special attention if you are in the business of publishing.
The Guardian recently featured an interesting article on why SEO should not be the only driver in site design. It featured the opinion of Matt Kelly, the associate editor of the Mirror, responsible for their recent successful forays online.
According to Kelly, “users” are people who discover content through Google, devour it, and then return to their search engine to look for more elsewhere.
“Often they have no idea which website it was they found the content on. Result? Users don’t care about the websites they visit, and as a consequence, advertisers are less willing to spend their cash to be associated with our content.
“We are to blame for allowing ourselves to be talked into believing that search engine optimisation is the be-all and end-all of successful website design.”
But, said Kelly, accumulating increasing numbers of unique users is of no long-term value. It is an “absurd metric that values one visit from one random Google News user as highly as daily visits, for an hour a time, from someone who treasures the content we produce.”
He argued that the “quest for a gazillion unique users from wherever, and for however little engagement, has been responsible for denuding many of our newspaper sites of the great brand and value and character that actually differentiates what we do, from all the aggregators and cheap, worthless news sites out there.”
Yes, an SEO’d site can drive users that don’t know your service or business. But you need to make sure they love what they find.
Posted by Wessel van Rensburg