• http://www.dropdigger.com/ Carl Eisenstein

    I actually agree with everything you say. But I think it’s been a valuable debate between you and Chris Dixon simply because so many startups and investors did think – and still do think – that SEO is the magic sauce that will make their business fly. And some did succeed with that mentality for a time – at least long enough to sell it!

    I think that was the core part of Chris’ argument, which I think is probably correct. Even if we in the SEO world knew that this has never been correct.

    SEO should be a part of every startups marketing mix, but personally I believe that the core focus should be on exactly the topics you listed at the start of your article – social media, PR. If executed correctly they’ll both help your SEO far more than ‘pure’ SEO techniques will anyway.

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    I have sensed the Big Panda/Farmer Update is more like the Black Monday Update from Altavista (October 25, 1999) when millions of doorway pages dropped out of the index. People woke up and shouted, “What just happened?”

    The reaction is similar to an old man shaking the cobwebs out of his head after sleeping for a long time. Rip Van Winkle has woken up and realized that the world is changed (once again).

  • http://about.me/jim_shook Jim Shook

    I actually don’t think theres a debate here. Chris argues that an SEO play isn’t a sustainable business. And Danny seems to agree. I think we can all agree that there’s no reason NOT to construct your website in a way that makes it visible to search engines, and that the real best “marketing strategy” is to be an authority in your space and create an awesome product.

  • http://bryankail.com Bryan

    I think the title of Dixon’s article is the problem. In reading his comments on his own post, he clarifies that his point is a ‘pure SEO’ approach doesn’t work.

    I think he inadvertently cites another reason why a ‘pure SEO’ plan hasn’t been working since 2008:
    “I talk to lots of startups and almost none that I know of post-2008 have gained significant traction through SEO (the rare exceptions tend to be focused on content areas that were previously un-monetizable).”

    Why are there these exceptions? Maybe it is because there are so few really good, new and unique ideas. The problem is probably with the business or the content itself and not SEO.

    To prove this hypothesis, it would be interesting to see a study comparing the ratio of return visitors to first time visitors and apply the same ratio to failures as the successes.

  • Jordan Kerr

    Amen… But did “pure SEO” ever work? There was a time (when I first started SEOing) where you could play around with pages and send a bunch of traffic to just about any site. Doesn’t mean they bought anything. You ranked No1 sure, but the page didn’t sell anything.

    Maybe SEO is a bad name for what we do (in 2011). Often, I don’t feel like I’m optimizing for Search Engines. I’m optimizing for people. With increasing importance of social networks for search, I’m thinking less and less about Google’s algorithm and more and more about psychology, about content with a hook, about how people use search engines and share information. So maybe I’m not an SEO so much as a HSBO (Human Search Behavior Optimizer)

    At any rate, the only people who say “SEO is dead” are the people who can’t adapt to an industry that doesn’t let you rest.

    People are using search more not less. People spend more time online, not less. As mobile becomes more popular, search and information at all times in all places will grow not shrink. And, as ever, there will be people like me (and Danny) working out ways to leverage human thirst for information.

  • EJ Campbell

    Obviously, all sites should be doing SEO, but as Dixon’s TripAdvisor example shows, a startup can offer a clearly better experience for a search engine click, yet it will rank lower than TripAdvisor for reasons such as longevity and Google’s historical trust in a site.

    That is why a pure-play SEO focused startup does not work anymore. Established players have corned the market for certain terms, and google does not do a good enough job differentiating good content from bad, putting startups at a tremendous disadvantage.

    Another good example is eHow. They started with really good content (that was invariably linked to a lot), and thus their domain has a high level of trust in Google’s algorithm. However, a lot of the newer stuff is crap, yet Google has a hard time telling the difference.

  • PVRK

    I want to comment from a slightly diffrent personal angle. I am finding this repeated chest thumping by Danny about how he is there from beginning very annoying. I saw an earlier article also where he said Microsoft is not serious earlier about search as they never talked to him before!

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    In Chris Dixon’s article, he talked about his views on what SEO has allowed since what he’s seen since 2001. I thought it was worthwhile to stress that I’ve seen it over an even longer period of time. I think that’s especially helpful because I’ve seen plenty of people talk about things as if this has been something that only happens with Google or how “SEO has always been” in some way. I think adding some history is helpful — and I’ve been around long enough to see that history.

    The article about Microsoft is here:
    http://searchengineland.com/tough-love-for-microsoft-search-15968

    That was over two years ago. It wasn’t that they’d never talked to me. They’ve talked to me since 1998, when they first launched MSN Search. I was making the point that I didn’t think the company was that serious about search because among a number of other things, I’d never had a chance to tall with Ballmer himself on the topic nor had he ever addressed a search topic.

    I’ll try to keep the chest thumping to a minimum, for time when I think it makes sense. I already thought I did that, but point taken.

    Carl, Jim, Bryan, agreed, I think Dixon is right to help investors understand that SEO isn’t some magic fairy dust. My main issue is that others might read it as if SEO is just worthless. That’s not the case. I’m just trying to bring some balance. Chris was writing from what was primary in his mind — that investors and start-ups might focus too much on that area, and probably not thinking they’d take it the other way, abandoning it altogether. I’m looking at it from the other side, is all.

  • Vijay Chand

    How is it that every ‘SEO is dead’ countered has invariably had commonly understood ‘SEO’ redefined!

  • samueljames

    Pure SEO has it’s limitations. You still have to have something worth seeing or selling for it to have any value. I can employ dozens of techniques to rank high, but if I am creating any new sales from that position, then it is meaningless. It is hard for the small guy to compete anymore since big companies have become aware that this is indeed the peanut butter to their jelly.

  • http://www.incredibleindia.cc Dharamvir Bhandari

    I am greatful to you for posting this article. This is amazing and I am glad i found your SEO article on google but would like another article on google penguin/panda update. Cheers!!