I just read a great article by Mike Grehan about the future of Search Engine Optimization. The question, “what is the future of search” is getting asked a lot lately. It’s changed a whole lot since I first got involved just about 10 years ago.
One key element that Grehan points out is that SEO is a really a function of marketing, which I don’t think many people outside the industry (and some inside) really understand. He says,
…even though industry leaders acknowledge that SEO is much more of a marketing process than a technical effort, there’s still a lot of fixation on crawler activity and indexing.
Most new clients and even developers I work with tend to think that I can put up some meta tags and do some voodoo to their code and, POOF, their site will be “optimized.” A lot of people (and, again, developers) call me a week before a new site is set to go live and say, “can you make sure this is optimized?”
Another thing Grehan mentions that stands out to me is:
Personalization and digital asset optimization will end 1999-style ranking reports, as search engine results will be based on blended results from end-user specifics, such as geographic location, time of day, previous searching history, and peer group preference.
Thank god! I’ve already started to ween myself, and clients, off of ranking reports. And with the availability of good analytics programs (like Google Analytics), there is really no need to base success on a handful of keywords. Ranking reports are easy to manipulate, inaccurate, can provide a false sense of SEO success (or failure) and, today, really have very little value.
It HAS to be about conversions! 1000 #1 placements aren’t any good if users aren’t going to and taking action on your site. Unfortunately, the search industry is still pushing rankings (Guaranteed #1 in Google!) as the be-all and end-all of SEO success. Let me make this my new motto:
Rankings are not an End, But a Means to an End…
Another key here is that great rankings and great traffic still aren’t any good on a broken site. This is why I’ve started to include a site analysis incorporating usability best practices as part of my standard SEO offering. My job is not rankings, it’s to help my clients succeed.
Another thing to point out from Grehan’s piece is that SEO is really turning into Reputation Management:
Reputation management will become more important as marketing continues its reversal from a broadcast medium to a listening medium.
It’s part of your overall marketing message. It’s about having a consistent marketing message acorss all channels and monitoring the voice of consumers. It’s social networks, it’s blogs, it’s public relations, it’s search results, and… just a little bit of voodoo. (-;