There is considerable buzz right now about whether Internet marketers should anticipate the death of SEO (search engine optimization). Will good content replace it the primacy of SEO? These debates will swirl around while people continue to try to monetize the giant genie that is now out of the bottle.
Wrestling with Spiders
If you write, market, sell or even dabble in the Internet, host a site, engineer sites, or "just" blog about what you're cooking; you have wrestled with and tried to master SEO at one time or another. Many will recognize that my extra long title, is not designed for clever algorithms, but for humans who think differently, process information in other ways.
Plenty of us have ignored SEO at our peril. The title, above, is an intentional example. More of us have tried to learn proper use, avoiding the appearance of “gaming the system”, while attempting to write in creative ways that don't sound leaden. I still chafe at writing for spiders. (Writing in a style that algorithms will reward, to raise the search engine profile of a given piece can be referred to as writing for spiders. Spiders are the bits of code used by search engines that crawl the “Interwebz” looking for the clues as to authentic content that deserves a higher ranking in Google.)
SEO often feels like the tail wagging the dog to those of us who have been bristling at the advice to write for search engines, preferring people to spiders. I’m not casting aspersions on spiders, I actually kinda like the little buggers. I might be compared to Miss Muffet when it comes to SEO though...
Is SEO is dead? Of course the provocative statement deftly described in this recent Forbes article by Ken Krogue will get people talking. And many of those will be part of the whole industry that has evolved to help us understand how to master SEO. They write books for us to buy, consult on how to do SEO and marketing on the web. That is how THEY monetize the web.
Of course, the article is about SEO and is running in Forbes. So, it will gain a much higher ranking than my little site, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion that will resonate. Maybe not in the halls of industry (or the cube farms, as it were) but at least some of my readers will get it.
How SEO is like Big Ag
All this talk about the death of SEO and whether good solid content & “social” will replace laser focus on SEO alone is akin to the debate between local food passionistas and big AG. How? Allow me...
We used to have a food system that was more local until it became industrialized. There were advantages for many in the industrialization process, advantages many people would rather ignore. Jobs for one, but this is not the main point here.
There’s an increasingly large and alarming body of evidence that the risks of industrialized agriculture may outweigh the benefits.
- we are not “feeding the world” with our increased productivity, though this is often offered as a justification
- we are polluting the earth, and draining the water table
- we are depleting the soil and creating a second Dust Bowl, (only our grandparents remember that tragedy?)
- we are creating chemically-dependent crops
- we are creating smarter bugs that are now resistant to antibiotics and which have the power to kill humans (80% of antibiotics produced in the US go to livestock NOT to humans)
At the same time, we have rediscovered the joys of local, sustainable food.
- we love our farmers’ markets even if they are often inefficient at distribution
- we have renewed our passion for seasonal food, a tomato that actually tastes like a tomato, pork that tastes like pork
- we have begun to realize that supporting our local economies has many, direct benefits
There are those that seek to demonize big AG and deify farmers’ markets. Simplicity loves a villain. We must find ways to support local farms, local economies and also to farm and distribute on a large scale in ways that don't create generations of disasters both economic and agricultural.
I believe the rising interest in “content” ("CONtent" which I keep reading as conTENT, as in happy...ironic, don’t you think?) echoes another key cultural shift. Whether or not we all begin eating only local food (not likely) or stop the massive recalls of tainted food, stop the Second Dust Bowl, begin farming more sustainably, find scales of production that actually work, stem the tide of farm foreclosures...one thing we all crave is more authenticity. More community. Finding "our" people and our place in the world seems more important than ever.
THIS is why affinity groups are so passionate about their topics, “their” bloggers, their recipes. This is why big corporate marketing departments are seeking out the blogging community support (witness the rise of the “yoga pants mom" demographic.) Social media has taken off partly because it is an efficient way for us to find others who share our passions, whether they live in Oslo or Oswego. I was a Twitter skeptic and now a huge fan. Ultimately, we'll look for hybrid systems - in agriculture, in online communities,
As is so often the case, the thought-leaders and self-proclaimed “gurus” will mine this new debate for their own purposes. People still need to figure out how to make money on the web, but they will need to refine it from simple SEO algorithms and gaming they system/manipulating it, until the next new thing that comes round. The debate needs to evolve into a more nuanced conversation about authentic communications, true communities. The recognition that "social" matters seems to me a very late epiphany for the "gurus" in the field. Many of us who have been ridiculed as unsophisticated are shrugging and collectively saying "duh."
Writing about what Matters
Some of us will go on writing about what matters to us, not necessarily to or for spiders. We’ll feel good when we strike a chord on a topic that never comes up in keyword search tools - but get tons of comments from readers. We’ll know we made an authentic connection with our audience. We revel in the emails from readers who never comment but share howe our stories moved them. These communities of conversation are going to exist whether marketers learn how to profit from them or not.
Depending on your goals, you may pay more or less attention to these prognostications about SEO, about CONtent, or you may be conTENT to write what you are passionate about, even if it doesn’t fit into a nice formula. I take pride in the fact that in the early days of a very well known aggregator, I tried mightily to encourage them to have a food & cooking category. They (being young male geeks who clearly knew more than I) insisted that their membership "didn’t care about food" and would consider my contributions "spam" (not the food product type).
Hey, even geeks have to eat. And yes, they do now have a food category.
This SEO debate reflects evolution in the industry. Some will get that, others will wring their hands and proclaim the sky is falling while they scramble to figure out what their next gig will be. And some will keep doing what we do. Writing what we care about for people who recognize that even geeks have to eat. Hey gurus do, too. We'll continue to try to find ways to monetize what we do and we'll rely on things like SEO or spiders to help readers who would otherwise never stumble upon us, to find us and join our online communities.
In the span of a week, we’ve had a death in the family, a serious hospitalization of a friend, crisis in the life of another loved one. We’ve shared gifts of food with new friends and anticipate the arrival of a new little one next door. No matter what happens with SEO - people matter, families matter. Family farms going under matters. Our country suffering another Dust Bowl, matters. The joy of having enough food to eat, of sharing a good meal together matters.
I’ll take that over page rank any day.
What do you think?
Do you write for people or to spiders?
How much attention do you pay to Meta tags, Social Media and SEO?