Once Niche, Now Mainstream
SEO used to be a niche activity, but not any more. Google provide their own free and pretty decent guide to SEO, most organisations have at least one person with some sort of knowledge of SEO .... SEO has even been heard on The Archers, on BBC Radio 4:
Yes, Colonel Ponsemby-Smythe in Buckinghamshire, whilst puffing on his pipe and listening to the Archers has also been quietly improving the performance of his golf clubs website.
Has SEO Become Evil? Is SEO The Devil's Work?
So ... much of the information that was previously somewhat opaque is now widely known. This is a good and a fair thing: there's no reason why such knowledge should be held in the hands of a few.
However, it's not all applied to enhance the well being of human kind. In Will Critchlow's (of Distilled) video Scaling White Hat Link Building, Will mentions that eHow "are publishing the equivalent of four English language wikipedia's per year". Four! Four Wikipedia's every year! (a truly mad statistic)
However, eHow don't just blindly publish buckets of content, they very carefully mine the things that we search for, identify gaps where content doesn't exist, and try to fill it. Sometimes usefully, sometimes not so ...
And this data mining to mass target the long tail is worrying some folks:
Many of the examples in the above article are examples of organisations mining the vast amounts of data that we voluntarily provide (sometimes unwittingly) to sell more. So, I think its a bit off-the-mark (but it makes a good headline) to point the finger at SEO. I think the examples are more cases of unscrupulous or clumsy uses of our data. The Target example is a case in point:
SEO Is .... ???
So what is SEO these days, and what will it become?
It's certainly changing - Google appears to be finally challenging the more dodgy end of the SEO world:
We've had Google Panda:
... and Google Venice:
... and now we have a heads-up that Google has those who "over-optimise" in Google's sites:
All the above can only be for the good ... finally, hopefully, some meaningful clearing out.
But, there's other kinds of changes happening too: in some cases, Google is taking some elements of control and influence away from site owners: for example, by choosing to change some Title tags in search results:(see also http://goo.gl/jDcjp, http://goo.gl/V2jSg)
This does all makes sense - Google focusing on the quality and usefulness of its results. You can also see this as Google cleaning up its advertising hoardings (after all Google now apparently perceives itself more as an advertising company than a technology company).
But with this targeting of the more spammy end of SEO, and this much greater emphasis on quality content and as Google say "building the for the user", surely SEO is becoming less a set of skills specific to just search optimisation and more an amalgam of other non-search-specific skills -isn't it?
Skills such as:
- Technical: Build a website well (and hence ensure all content can be found by people and searchbots).
- Market Research: Know your potential customers, know what your organisation should be relevant to versus what your organisation *is* currently relevant to.
- User Experience Design: Build for your users, look at providing engaging experiences, understand conversion & bounce rates, A/B testing etc.
- Information Architecture: Build your website/digital presence around what you should be relevant to.
- Creative Marketing (and this is becoming increasingly influential): How to create something cost-effectively that engages, sparks interest, compels people to share/Tweet/link, etc
Are SEO people therefore becoming merely digital project managers that pull together many disciplines not particularly related to search - or - is there more to it than that?
There's been a rash of thoughts about trying to rename SEO to reflect some of these changes: is SEO the world of "organic web strategists"? Or, "inbound marketeers"? I quite like Ian Laurie's comment, that SEO is a marketing tactic, that really its just a strand of "internet marketing".
For my two pennies-worth personally I prefer "data driven natural search marketing" or just "natural search marketing", but DDNSM or NSM isn't as catchy as SEO is it? Thoughts anyone?
Roland is speaking at Brighton SEO on April 13th, examining how we can see what searchbots actually get up to, and why it matters.