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The Future Of SEO in a Socially Driven World
If SEO is dead, social media will be, too, in another five years. So, keep calm and tweet on.
Hold that thought for a second – I can explain.
In today’s search world, there’s a lot of talk about how social is “taking over,” how “content is king,” and how search engine optimization is “dead” — with search updates like Penguin and Panda hitting the final nails on the coffin. Sounds very dramatic, doesn’t it?
SEO is “Dead” — Or Is It?
Yes, social is more significant than ever. But, it is too early to draw any conclusions about the death of SEO based on the patterns that we’re seeing. If anything, what we’re seeing today are the after effects of a healthy transition.
We’re seeing a phase in which certain signals that were previously very significant have been given reduced importance or are being replaced with newer and more genuine signals. The system as a whole, however, remains the same.
If We Don’t Understand, We Ignore — How Convenient
What we’re missing or avoiding in the discussions of “search vs. social” are the fine details of what entities within social are becoming more significant. “Social” is a broad term — and claiming that social is taking over search is nothing but an immature observation.
Social is not “taking over.” It might add value to search, yes — but taking over is far-off a possibility.
The reality is that search algorithms are still doing pretty much the same thing they’ve always been doing: giving users the best possible results and the best possible search experience with less clutter. This has been the core focus of search engines for years and always will be.
So, what has changed?
What’s changed is the way people communicate and the way they behave and respond to content online. This, of course, includes the methods by which they share information online.
If I was Google back in 2000, I only had to worry about trillions of data from HTML pages on the “Web index.”
All I’d focus on was giving users the most relevant HTML content based on their search query. And, once I had the biggest repository of content, all I had to figure out was which is of these HTML pages contained the best content, based on various user behaviors and search queries.
But then, quite a lot has changed over the years.
Something Happened Along The Way
User behavior has changed. Information today is shared and digested in smaller, more frequent chunks, and authority has dispersed from larger silos into smaller pillars.
Back in the early 2000s, authority was attributed to a few, like Wikipedia, big brands, or published research papers. Websites were not “trustworthy” for their content, and the only way search engines could determine which content was “reliable” was by looking at referrals (which, at that time, came in the form of links). The more referrals you got, the more popular — and therefore, more trustworthy — your content was deemed to be.
Fast forward to 2013, and we are in the same situation — except that today, search engines have acknowledged the significance of social signals. People are interacting more socially online, and information is shared accordingly. Back in the day, links were the single most significant “referral” metric — today, likes, shares and tweets are a part of the mix, too.
Social Isn’t All About Likes & Shares
Social signals go beyond likes, shares and tweets, however. There are subtler, yet still significant, metrics like engagement levels, reach amplification, frequency, co-citations, demographic relevancy, historic amplification, authority circles, etc. These are all metrics that brands have always wanted to glean from their audience. With TV and radio, little was known and the rest was all guess work. Today, you have copious amounts of raw data to make use of. It’s a gold mine for marketing analysts.
So, my point is, the claim that social is taking over search is only partially true. What’s actually happening is that social has become an integral part of search today, and in ways that will evolve the two in more robust and sophisticated ways.
SEO Is Not Dead — It Has Evolved
To clarify, and to circle back to where I started — if you think SEO is dead, then social media, too, will be dead in a couple of years. My point is that neither of them is dying or dead.
Rather, search has evolved into a bigger, more significant, more sophisticated marketing channel. It has incorporated social, absorbing all its goodness and filtering out all the noise (though, it’s not 100% there yet).
Search will evolve again as it grows. Optimization techniques as we know them today will change. Some metrics will be deprecated, some new ones will emerge. So, from this perspective, SEO is “dead” — that is, SEO as we knew it years ago.
So, What Is The Future Like?
The reality is that social will evolve, as well. We are talking about new technologies in search coming in. Technology that simplifies actions changes user behavior. While we used to seek information via the Web from our desktops in the 2000s, today, we’re asking via voice commands to our smart phones. Tomorrow, we’ll wave our hands (or even just think about a topic), only to get a multiple media spectrum of information before our eyes (Google Glass?).
We’re seeing advances in both hardware and search technology. As more sophisticated technologies like sixth sense and wearable gesture interfaces become mainstream, search, too, will climb up the relevancy levels. Additionally, I’d predict that:
- We’ll see websites with no “SEO” done (the traditional way) crawl up to top search results on search engines, purely because of their brand relevancy and social citation strength.
- People’s recommendations will be more cleverly used within search results for queries.
- Local search will be more relevant and customized.
- Platform-based customization will become more relevant and sophisticated.
- Authority, as we know it, will be redefined by personal influence, social circle strength and domain expertise.
- Social search will not always remain a parallel stream to “Web” search, but will collaborate and merge at certain strategic points.
The above are trends we can extrapolate from what we’re already seeing today — I’m sure there’s more surprises in store.
Today, the two entities that define search, the “user” and “data,” are evolving into forms that are more efficient, more relevant and simpler, using technologies that seem to be evolving by the minute. In such an ever-changing, dynamic world of search, its only our short-sightedness that makes us think that optimization is dead.
As long as our hunger for knowledge continues, as long as we’re searching for more information, search technology will exist and optimization methods will be in demand — social or otherwise.
There may be radical changes in the way we use our platforms, and as a result, “relevancy” will be redefined at every step — but the DNA of search will essentially remain the same.
Search engines will get cleverer as they understand our thinking patterns from search queries, and results will get more relevant and “tailor-made.” The smart marketer will be the one who’ll catch up to the bots and think like one.
So folks, keep tweeting, keep sharing. Keep the data flowing.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.