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It seems like every few months, somebody declares SEO dead. Its latest funeral was held yesterday.

This time around, its eulogy was written by Ben Elowitz, co-founder of web publisher Wetpaint. According to Elowitz, it's all about social.

He writes:

Search was critical when answers to questions were scarce. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) can find an answer to almost any keyword query from among the zillions of pages on the web. But at a time when such answers are abundant, it’s far more valuable to find the best content for me – and increasingly, find it before I’ve even asked for it. The sort algorithm that works best for that is more correlated to who’s doing the asking than how they would phrase the ask. For that level of personalized results, no abject algorithm can keep up without deep knowledge of its users. Advantage: Facebook.

In a response to a comment, he elaborates on the above:

...people are finding an answer at Facebook every minute to the very most important question in media: "what do I need to know?"

But search is about more than the kind of "media" Elowitz, and his company, is focused on. Most of us aren't news and entertainment junkies who sit in front of the computer or television 24/7 waiting for breaking news, reading celebrity gossip blogs or perusing tweets. Search is about information at large. And information comes in all shapes and sizes.

I may very well be interested in the 'latest and greatest', but that's just one small part of my sphere of interests. When I want to find the best deal on a particular product I'm thinking about buying, I turn to Google. When I need to look up information about a medical condition, I turn to Google. When I'm interested in information about vacation destinations, I turn to Google. When I'm researching an investment, I turn to Google.

Why? Because as helpful as Facebook may be in keeping track of what my friends are doing and what they're sharing online, chances are that the most efficient and effective way to get important information I want or need now is through search, not social. After all, if I'm looking to export products to the UK, I'm not simply going to wait around on Facebook hoping one of my friends will miraculously post a status update linking to, say, the page on the HM Revenue & Customs website that happens to contain answers to questions I have.

Despite the hype about social search, there's no indication that social is cannibalizing search. Between December 2008 and December 2009, searches on Google properties grew 58%, to nearly 88 billion a month. While this figure includes searches outside of Google's core search engine, it's fair to say many, if not most, were 'real' searches.

More important, of course, is the nature of those searches. Google searches frequently carry with them intent; individuals are constantly looking for information that has commercial value in some form. That's why advertisers spend billions of dollars a year paying for clicks that come through ads displayed on Google's SERPs. And it's why publishers and businesses spend untold amounts on SEO in an effort to rank well organically.

Which leads us to the fatal flaw in Elowitz's argument: the belief that if you build it, they will come. Elowitz has plenty of cool-sounding statements, like "audience values content, not keywords," "the big opportunity is now once again creating and refining the most appealing content possible" and "publishers need to then reward their audiences with the full range of possibilities, including prestige, access, exclusive content and enhanced experiences," but little of this provides a foundation for actionable strategy.

In effect, Elowitz preaches the following:

1. Create really good content.
2. Embrace "social media optimization."
3. ?
4. Profit.

The missing piece, of course, is distribution. Sure, Facebook has a massive audience, but that doesn't mean that there's always a good way to get your content -- no matter how great it is -- into the hands of the people who need and want it most.

If you're publishing information about products, laws, medicines, etc. -- information which individuals often place a high value on and proactively seek out -- chances are your target audience is turning to Google for help. Quality content is obviously a must no matter what, but if you're not doing everything you can to make sure your content is accessible to individuals performing relevant searches (read: SEO), you're shooting yourself in the foot. 

Is Google perfect? Of course not. And it's clear that Google and other search engines will incorporate social signals, where appropriate, to boost the relevance of their SERPs. But the next time you're interested in diabetes, the corporate tax rate in Ireland, or the weather in Tahiti, chances are Google is your best friend.

Photo credit: Mrs Logic via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 28 October, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2380 more posts from this author

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Stephen Logan

Stephen Logan, Senior Copywriter at Koozai

Every swipe at SEO misses something fundamental. This particular attack is like me saying that Facebook is dead, purely because I prefer the simplicity of Twitter when I'm sourcing news. It was announced recently that Google are attracting 6.4% of all Internet traffic. That does not suggest to me that search engines are being replaced by social sources. Where you go for news can be extremely different to where you shop or find specific information. There's no doubt things are moving forwards, attitudes are changing, but the one constant is the strength and popularity of search engines. And, whether we like it or not, those search engines rely on a whole lot of information to determine where sites rank. SEO will always be there to help businesses get their message seen and heard. Another piece of linkbait/self promotion that really misses the point. Facebook is not the answer at the moment, and it may never be - despite its best efforts.

over 5 years ago

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Cornwall SEO

"Every swipe at SEO misses something fundamental."

Not if the intent of the article was to get a link from econsultancy.com Accuracy in the arguement is sometimes not the intent of the writer/publisher/blogger, which thought detracts from the conversation about whether "seo is dead" or not.

However, I have been around this industry that such words when put in that order become blind to me and a small part of my brain lights up with a sign saying, "What is this Nimrod really after?"

over 5 years ago

Saman Mansourpour

Saman Mansourpour, Partner at TheAgency

Every channel has its place, and the investment in that channel activity should be measured against its return.

It is a little difficult to argue that SEO might be dead, as long as the concept of search still exists. Perhaps its influence is diminished, and therefore a companies investment in time and money should be reduced.

I, however don't personally believe this to be the case.

over 5 years ago

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searchbrat

Good response to yet another poorly researched link bait piece on SEO. I don't get why people are so quick to usher in the death of SEO. Why can't people just write on the evolution of SEO and how this can work hand in hand with other tactics like SMO etc.

over 5 years ago

Steve Davies

Steve Davies, CEO at Fitch Media

As is often the case in these debates, each side argues their own case so strongly that they become blinded to alternative reasoning. 

If you stand back and look at the debate from an unbiased standpoint then curiously both sides are correct, at the same time as being wrong..  Bear with me for a second.

SEO in this age of saturated online content could well be regarded as near the end of its usefulness, no matter how clever the algorithms used to compile the information gathered by bots, the result represents the median of the user population as a whole - in fact it might well be argued that as the internet is opened up to a wider cross-section of social cohorts that Search becomes less useful.

I'm not average (okay, in some instances I am), but what we all want is guidance that is relevant to our own interests and preferences.

So, there's clearly a juxtapoint (that we've not reached yet) where SEO and Social optimisation meet, where the both recommendation engines collaborate to produce answers to our personal needs.  Neither Google nor Facebook are able to eat each other's lunch, they'll need to collaborate.

So in reality SEO is not dead, it's just evolving.

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@CornwallSEO - LOL! The SEO Trades Union uniform pack should include a t-shirt with: "What is this Nimrod really after?" stenciled on the front. 

It is tempting to  implement a blanket ban on coverage of these silly statements. Hmmm.

over 5 years ago

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Ben

This piece got my attention and I just spent 2 minutes reading it. If anything, the aura of SEO is not dead ... 

over 5 years ago

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Gabriele Maidecchi

I agree that "social search" is on the rise, obviously, with instruments like Facebook and the real-time Twitter search, but I believe standard web search is still going to rock for a long, long time.

Social searches are optimal to monitor a brand and find for information related to specific communities, but they really aren't suitable for standard information searches, not yet at least, and in my opinion still for a very long time.

I am however looking with interest at partnerships like Facebook/Bing, that could be the hybrid move necessary to bridge the gap between the two kinds of search.

over 5 years ago

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Bluesky

The cries of "SEO is dead" do occur pretty much every week. Almost to the point that it has become a 'boy who cried wolf' scenario. Like it or not, digital marketing landscape will change drastically over the coming years, but surely an adept and forward-thinking marketing company will simply rise to the challenge.

over 5 years ago

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Jenny Simpson

"SEO is dead" "6 ways to get your stories re-tweeted" "Top Social Media Fails"

Easy things to write to get a bit of attention...

SEO isn't dead of course - in fact, it's still yet to go mainstream (It's hard to conceive that if you're a hardcore SEO, but I do mean that. Ask many CEOs of top companies and they really don't have a clue).

SEO is mutating.

Actually, over the last couple of years at the agencies I've worked at, we've been talking more about our work as "online marketing" (the general concept) with SEO techniques at the heart. That's the direction I think it's taking.

over 5 years ago

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DP Web design

I am agree, SEO is dead but not totally, digitdal marketing is dhifted more towards social search.

over 5 years ago

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Joe

Also remember that forward search engines don't deliver results, they deliver starting places to query. Natural language queries and inverse searches make it all come together.

over 5 years ago

Chris Moffatt

Chris Moffatt, Online Strategist and Project Manager at The Other Media

SEO is dead. Really? I would challenge any marketer to demonstrate evidence of a major multichannel retailer who is making more sales through social search than natural search.

Natural and paid search remain far more important within ecommerce than social search. Long live SEO.

over 5 years ago

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Steven Hamilton

Lets face it, someone is always going to predict the death of this medium. Surely it is not the death of this process that should keep being preached but more the way that it is adapted as abilities of the strategists increase. In no way is SEO perfect but many companies I have had the pleasure of dealing with insist that it has aided the growth of their business.

over 5 years ago

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N.J.Bond

Other tactics is the need of the hour. Many things that worked in the past will not work in the present or going to work in future. One looks for somthing special in net  to satisfy his need. One also look to buy one to one custom ordered like piece ordered in the global village, Cyber space,Digital world.

Consumers are conciouse of pollution and 'green -washings' by multinationals/corporates . In textile I have experienced it . Organic and natural dyed denim jeans is possible to make chemical free or maximum <3% chemical added to its processing as salt is added to our food though it  is Nacl.

During evil time 50's it started with synthetic dyes and now 65,ooo metric tonns per annum consumed in denim industry alone. As elephant cannot dance large corporations are not trusted by conciouse consumers in net to buy on organics , with out organic touch nothing will sell.The dilemma is  Small insustries and organisations alone can do it as it is now in  the technology lock.Virtually people search for organic and natural  in dress and food , home and gadgets.In  one full degade of time how many are concioualy and  really doing it .   Big corporates spread the wrong message the adding of chemical to natural dying is dangerous!  This rumour made consumers go suspeciously pessimistic  of all denims .  They are pessimistically suspecious and cautious now in digital media , about media and terrorised at digital global .  Instead of developing technologicl ways and means to reduce genuine way pollutions solutions big ones started  blaming  small ones is not marketing . Instead of evolving SEO making it die is easy.Instead ofbuilding  things like platform to distribute and deliver mechanism of one to one orders ,they are indulging in prophecy/ dooms.

ATER ALL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IS TO SERVE HUMANITY . In the synthetic cheimcal brain cells can not rejunuate or regenerate.It can give dementia or Alzemeres and cancers .It attacks at the root like atoms in capsules and  tubes in billions per one breath . There are 23,000 chemical breaths per day for every human.Why not big is changing themselves , give me one big company ecample ,not the green washing, the genuine one.

On plantation stemcells  Serum,Mask,Cream dead adult cells are kep aside and and fresh ones  are rejunuated. 25 years ago no one believed it .Now women enterprenurs are reserching this hot subject,very hot indeed. Nano technology and stem cell science now proved that 97 % of consumer goods are useless to people.Democratic marketting is going to come in , kings are going to be thown out in markets. This is the changing  process taking place in its micro form now.  Body is not a metal pot to keep loading it with antibiotics  for as many years as 65 only to prove it is ineffective now. Instead of creatively adapting to changes that are truely useful to people  we are trying to change the secene.Old wine in new bottle will not sell in 3 rd millanium . More conciouse and creative are going to bee born soon in this world.

What can SEO do in this environ ,it is dead in the scene,  one side , and in other section it is evolving, we are in adequote to adapt to creativley. 

over 5 years ago

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Phill Ohren

Yet more ridiculous propaganda by more "Social Media Expert Guru's" (SMEG'S). Seriously, topics like this remind me of how naive and arrogant SEO's were when they were cream of the crop..... bad mouthing everything they could that wasn't Google related. Worst thing is, most Social Media guys don't releasie how there activity contributes to SEO traffic in the first place. So long as people look for information, SEO will ALWAYS exist. It is however splitting into different verticals.

over 5 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2

There's always talk of the new thing killing off the old thing - always. Remember catalogues and e-commerce?

Truth is, everything will settle down, find it's place and co-exist happily.

over 5 years ago

Mike Essex

Mike Essex, Marketing & Comms Manager at Petrofac

An excellent post Patricio. There will always be industries that turn to search for their information. For example, the building industry has very little presence online socially. Although attempts have been made by many of the big publications to create such an environment, these have all failed to gain large volume. It's simply because technical information is easier to find with a search, and not everyone wants to make friends with people in their industry. Why ask a pool of people and wait for a reply when you can perform a few searches?

over 5 years ago

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SEO Dorset

Funny...social media is a great new technology and works for all of those kids that don't have an email address as it's just too corporate and uncool. It can also be a great source of information and feedback for corporates if they have the guts to dip their toes in.

SEO however is a corporate beast, purely aimed at increasing the bottom line...not wooly, but measurable. As long as there's more than one company producing a product or offering a service there will be a battle for exposure...that's SEO's role. No doubt the role will evolve over time just as the search engines evolve, but whatever it''s called in the future it will always have a place as long as search leads sales.

over 5 years ago

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farouk

now that i have been running an online business since 5 years i smile whenever i see someone saying that seo is going to die, poor seo, everyone underestimates its survival abilities:)

over 5 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

I think the blinkers that everyone has firmly clamped to their heads are labelled “B2C”, on one side and “Marketing”, on the other.

If I am a consumer, of a brand, commodity or product (or medical dictionary, or weather forecast), and I can indeed find out about, and purchase that, from a vending machine then, fair enough, I don’t really need much “chat” to help me. It might help me, of course, if I “follow fashion” but am not sure if my bum would look big in it, or can’t quite decide for myself if that actor or author is worth coughing £5 to experience but otherwise, no, even if it’s as big as a house (construction industry), I can probably decide for myself whether I want to live in it or not.

When I’m trying to find out if anyone has, in fact, developed any relevant and practical training, for my 50-person sales team, on whom I am going to lavish £250,000 worth of intensive training to make them fit for purpose in the 21 Century (e.g. teaching them to blog), ah well now that’s a different matter altogether. Now I do need to find a few “experts” or “peers” and “have a chat” with some of them, person to person or person to people. Only I don’t want to go queuing up and down the motorways to do that, I want to do it here, online.

And those (replacement) blinkers are called “B2B” and “Selling”.

(So, OK, maybe a “chat” with a Barratt rep about that new development at the other end of the country might be nice too, vis-à-vis that construction point, but that’s the kind of cross-over point and grey area between “commodity” B2C and “complex, high-end, consultative” B2B).

over 5 years ago

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Donal Langan

With the advance of personalised search, social media and localisation; information is presented to you by the constantly updated patterns of what you have searched for, bought, and importantly what your friends, or like minded individuals think is important and interesting. However, thinking that websites can just be found by people within the sea of other websites online is naïve.

A site, webpage, or online article still needs to focus on what it is trying to get across and use crawlable content so that it is correctly associated to the type of search phrases a visitor would search on.

Which means that a website that has done indepth customer focused keyword research, has content that is relevant to searchers typing in those terms, and one that makes sure it is optimised correctly so the content can actually be indexed will still do well.

The idea of personalising search is to narrow down the mass of information out there and present more relevant results, in a perfect world this would be ‘one’ perfect result returned. We are far from that, and even if we do reach that stage, that site still needs to convey that it is the perfect result through being optimised well.

over 5 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

Patricio, both sides are wrong. Search is a smaller piece of a bigger pot.

The right way to wealth:

1. Create an amazing product or service (or at least a very good one).

2. Market the heck out of it, either via search, via social networking or via flyers in the street. Or in some cases via all three.

So for once you're both right.

over 5 years ago

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Jack Martin

I just keep reading how SEO is dead. And yet all my favorite SEO companies are still in business. And yet each year, you hear “SEO is dead” more and more. My coworker just did some research on how often “SEO is dead” is said, and who’s saying it. If you’re interested, check it out on Conversation Marketing at http://www.portent.com/blog/seo/seo-is-dead-and-the-death-of-seo-graveyard.htm

over 4 years ago

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