As sure as the sun shines behind the clouds on a rainy day, a major shake-up in the search marketing industry is coming soon. The signals are being sent and receivedÂ through-out the various sectors of search and online marketing. Change in any marketplace, when it does come, is often swift, brutal and merciless. For some SEO practitioners, this one will be especially so. While the search marketing industry has been bracing for change for at least a year, the movement is now picking up speed and gathering momentum. As SEOs, our working-world is going to look very different this time next year.
The biggest change is the death of “traditional SEO”
Dead is taking it a bit far. SEO is not exactly dead. A better way to describe it would be to say it dyed.
SEO has evolved so far and so quickly in the past six months that it as a practice is hardly recognizable from its humble roots, much like a Neanderthal placed beside any given Homo sapien. The thread that ties the past to the present is search. Everything still comes down to some sort of search.Â Nevertheless, the traditional view of SEO services is over. Having languished in a virtual state of stasis for most of the past year, the concept of traditional, SERP based SEO went to rest sometime in the early spring.
With the introduction and rapid advancement of social networking, the attention of the search marketing world and Internet users has quickly spread outward, away from the common search engine results pages. While Top10 (first page) placements are still extremely important traffic drivers, information seekers rely on social media, RSS feed-readers, specific vertical search tools and multimedia as frequently as they do on traditional search engines. (That’s why the traditional search engines are branching so far out into the social media)
This has led to a surge in the development of SEO based techniques to work within social media environments. Clients now require social profiles for their businesses, themselves and their key staff, along with the proficiency of a skilled social networker to keep those profiles popular and polite. Fortunately adaptable SEOs will find many of these tasks fall within skill-sets that are very similar to “traditional SEO”.
Another critical service popping up in many SEO firms is called reputation management. With literally thousands of potential venues open to anonymous or unmoderated postings by the public larger companies often require professional assistance monitoring and maintaining the numerous representations of their online reputations. All too often though, the majority of us don’t need someone else to make us look bad online. We’re perfectly capable of doing it ourselves.
Take a second to think about this question. How many profiles do you have available to searchers in how many different venues?
Try to consider everything from a database of church members to the dating site one might have signed up with to the websites of local business association. Now add MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, MyBlogLog, and any other larger social network you or your business might have joined. Though much of it might be restricted to members-only searches an enormous amount of personal and business information is floating around to be discovered, vetted, and compared with that of other potential employees or vendors. For some, that though constitutes a reputation management problem. Who better to find and attend to such problems but companies that already specialize in performing searches and creating high ranking documents?
The final nail in the coffin of traditional SEO was the introduction of Google’s personalized results. Though personalization and localization will be good for adaptable SEO firms, the direct interests expressed by each unique user will increasingly determine which documents are consistently placed in that user’s results. That means SEOs will have to do more work on each file doing little things such as placing calls to action leading to social or browser based bookmarking (which requires the establishment of even more business profiles) and building smarter link/tag networks, along with the traditional SEO tasks covering titles, tags, text, structure and links.
Covering all those bases is not a simple task but much of the basics remain the same. The principle application of search is used in an increasing number of venues. While each search application differs from venue to venue, they perform the same ultimate task. Most fall into a limited number of types that experienced SEOs have likely dealt with before. For instance, tagging images at Flickr or documents at Digg is much like adding the keyword meta-tag was for Alta Vista. Similarly, writing great personal or business profiles is much like writing a strong description. The same principles apply from keyword to copy.
Full-scale service is going to cost a lot more for SEO firms to provide in the near future. A worry in the business end of the SEO industry is that tomorrow’s services (slowly being introduced today) will cause a shake-out in the industry as less adaptable firms fall by the wayside and smaller business clients struggle to afford an increasingly expensive set of services. The small business situation will cause its own short-term stirrings in the industry as the standards of SEO services start to imitate other vertical markets.
For businesses currently relying on SEO services as a primary traffic driver, the warnings have gone out long before this one but…Â Adapt now. Your advertising dollars are already moving away from the mainstream media (newspaper, TV, flyers, etc…) and towards the digital media. That trend will make digital media the number one advertising venue by 2011 according to the influential VSS Communications Industry Forecast, issued earlier this week. While hardly advising immediate abandonment of the mainstream media, I strongly advice a hard look at how next year’s marketing budget is going to be used. You’ll likely get a lot more mileage from the viral power of a 3-minute YouTube video than you would from a month of localized 30-second spots. At the same time, you might want to take a very close look at what others are saying about you or your business online. If you find that nobody is talking about you or your business, or that they are talking trash, you might want to do something about it.
The bottom (and hopefully last) line is simple. A new generation of highly wired consumers is looking at monitors more than they are print or television. The weight of their bulk is fundamentally changing how they and other consumers use the Internet. Though it is and likely always be about search, it’s not necessarily about search engines. Like I said to start, a shake-up is coming in the industry and like most shifts it is going to produce interesting results.