Search Engine Optimization isn’t dead. It’s UNDEAD.

Unless you’re a business owner or marketer, you may not be aware of the lurking hoard of flesh eaters approaching you from all sides: by telephone, by email and by social networks. They call themselves ‘SEO experts’ but if you open a door for them, they take a pound of flesh and leaving you in the cold.

The practice of improving the visibility of a website is noble. But, increasing the visibility of a site isn’t search engine centric any more.

<RANT>Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a pipe dream.  It’s an empty promise. It’s a parlor trick.  And those who peddle it are selling a pile of rancid, outdated techno-marketing babble.</RANT>

For the past 3-4 years, I’ve been teaching an iMedia course with peers for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s executive education program.  In recent sessions, I’ve passed over nearly all of the content related to Search Engine Optimization in favor of content on leveraging social media. Why? SEO is a dying practice. And, unless you’re a carrion feeder — it’s not a place to spend your valuable time or limited marketing dollars.

Hear me out, and let me know if you agree:

Social algorithms beat statistical algorithms. A decade ago, it was a lot of effort for search engines to determine the best search results for a given query.  Left to algorithms alone, search engines tended to produce poor results.  That is why Yahoo went to great lengths during it’s heyday to point out that it wasn’t a search engine. Instead, it positioned itself as a ‘directory’ with content powered by human oversight.  Yahoo’s ‘human factor’ was defeated by increasingly-sophisticated algorithms capable of indexing vast amounts of content. Algorithms were never perfect but they were better (faster and more comprehensive) than rival directory-based approaches.

SEO became the art of exploiting the imperfections of Algorithms.  Manipulating metatags, keywords, and inbound links to achieve better results.  However, the recent advent of social networks has injected statistical algorithms with human factors (sharing, liking, Digging, Stumbling, tweeting, retweeting, referring, etc). In the words of Wilson Rothman, deputy tech-sci editor of  MSNBC: “Why build an autonomous artificial intelligence when you can devote the same programming resources to building systems to translate the whims of the masses into usable results? Why stop at music, video or food recommendations, the stuff you see already posted on the walls of your friends? Why not turn the sum total of 500 million people’s wall postings into humanly intelligent news blotters and search results?”

Good content trumps good keywords. Search engines are getting smarter.  It’s their job to know when an ‘auto’ is a ‘car’ is an ‘automobile’ is a ‘motorcar’ is a ‘vehicle’ is a ‘coup’ is a ‘convertible’ is a ‘ride’ is a ‘jalopy’ is a ‘sedan’ is a ‘v6′ is a ‘v8′ is a ‘van’ is a ‘truck’ is a ‘smart car’ is a ‘family truckster’ is a ‘POS’ is a blah, blah, blah.  The best content creators focus on finding ‘just the right word’ — not the most popular word — to describe the world around them.  We need to hold search engines, like Google, to a higher standard of understanding.  They need to become GREAT search engines, so that we can become great content providers.  Google needs to partner with Facebook — not compete with them.  We don’t need a mediocre social network from Google that (God forbid) favors its own content over competing social networks to determine what is relevant.

Metatags don’t matter (much). A decade ago, metatags were important. They helped unsophisticated search engines crawl websites with confidence.  Today, they provide little value. Google creates titles and descriptions on its own and takes into account the page’s content and external links and references. Other search engines may use metatags a bit more — but people don’t tend to use other search engines. Having a negligible impact on undesirable search engines isn’t worth the time you spend.

Instant results trump page results. Google now shows search results as you type.  Google introduced the feature to save users an average of 2 to 5 seconds per search. Since it’s rollout in 2010, it’s changed the way users view results. It’s a great feature for the consumer, but it makes it tough on our SEO efforts.

You’ll NEVER achieve big results implementing aggressive search engine optimization practices.  Aside from managing your site’s redirects and utilizing a good URL rewrite tool, there’s little more you need to do for your website that create good content and share it.  Replace your ‘search engine optimization’ mindset with a ‘content optimization’ mindset.

If someone using the former mindset approaches you, run away.  The first rule of survival in Zombieland is ‘cardio’.

Credits: Illustration by Nathan Bowers, aka ‘Doodleist’.  Fun sketch but, as Nathan points out, the brain is a bit big for an SEO consultant.

Every Zombie Death

I’m a huge fan of the AMC series The Walking Dead, a monthly black-and-white American comic book series published by Image Comics. The series chronicles the travels of a group of people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Troy-Janisch/1095484363 <fb:name linked="false" useyou="false" uid="1095484363">Troy Janisch</fb:name>

    From Kirk Michie, via LinkedIn: Kudos re this…..if I had a buck for every person in my realm of acquaintance who’s recently met with or connected to someone holding themselves out to be an ‘SEO expert’ I could afford to hire a dozen of them…..here’s the thing…..logically, could there really be a bunch or them? Do they cancel each other out? I’m sure I’m missing something here, but…..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Troy-Janisch/1095484363 <fb:name linked="false" useyou="false" uid="1095484363">Troy Janisch</fb:name>

    Great article from Social Media today that talks about how Social is hurting Google:

    http://socialmediatoday.com/clifffigallo/274230/what-really-hurting-google-social-search-john-byrne

  • http://andrewjwalsh.com/blog Andrew

    Great post! I love the zombie imagery and you make some excellent points.

    Sometimes I like to go over the services of an “SEO expert” to see how they try to scam people. I’ve seen some awful stuff: like $25 or more per page for “meta tag optimization.” I feel so bad for anyone who actually falls for it.

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  • http://www.automatedsocialnetworking.com treb072410

    Great post Troy! You really have a point here… I agree with Andrew, I really feel bad for anyone who falls for it. Everybody can do meta tag optimization without being a SEO expert…