The End of SEO - Chicago SES 2008 Key Take Away

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A recurring theme at this year's Chicago SES 2008 was that 'SEO (as we know it) is Dead.' The reason given is that as search becomes more personalized by location, recent searches, time spent on web pages (Microsoft's BrowseRank), and by user-built search results (Google's SearchWiki), it becomes increasingly difficult to gain top rankings across the board, since everyone sees something different when they perform a search. This even makes the idea of ranking reports, a common SEO benchmark tool, obsolete.

But it's not really about ranking reports and never has been. Ranking for keywords has always been a goal, because higher ranking means more traffic, and the right keywords often mean more conversion. And that's what it comes down to - traffic and conversions.

So in this brave new world of personalized search results, the shift is now away from search ranking, and instead it will move toward personal profiles - gender, profession, interests, hobbies. In other words, SEO will take a more classical marketing approach by first determining the audience and then determining how to communicate to them in an effective way.

And targeting personas has never been easier. As more and more social media users pour their data onto the web, it becomes easier to research and discover the who, what, and where. For example, who is talking about a certain type of product, what is the language and tone of the conversation, and where that conversation is taking place can all now be answered. This information will help marketers develop better ad copy and deliver better ad placement. Following both these steps can only result in better conversions and better ROI.

So on one hand, it's all becoming infinitely more complex. But on the other hand, to someone familiar with the tools, the ability to perfectly match a product or service to the right people is close at hand.

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KenS 12-12-2008 1:55 PM

I can't say that I fully agree with the complete abandonment of concern for search rankings or that SEO as we know it is dead. You said it yourself "higher ranking means more traffic and the right keywords often mean more conversion" I DO believe that ranking REPORTS are increasingly inaccurate due to personalization. I don't believe SEO is dead, though.

Isn't it possible that SEO is not dead because the conference focused on social networking but that the CONFERENCE ITSELF WAS NOT ABOUT SEARCH ENGINE STRATEGIES?

If anything, the conference revolved around social network-centric marketing. That's fine. It's just not a search engine strategy.

If you want to say that it was, well then you only need to ask yourself "why". "Why", in relation to search engines, should I care about social networking and the language of the conversation and who's talking? Because you can pick up the language and tone (a.k.a keywords), find the authorities and trend-setters and get your product or website in front of them (a.k.a link building).

Now, "why" do we care about keywords and link-building? Because those things get us ranked in search engines. Sounds to me like the basics of SEO are alive and well.

While an SEO's responsibilities may be sliding more toward the marketing side, make no mistake, social network users still make up a small percentage of many markets' searchers compared to Googlers. The SEO still has to get get that organic traffic from the search engines.

ArthurK 12-12-2008 2:41 PM

As an owner of a number of Websites who also has an optimization/SEO team I have attended the SEO Conference just to walk the floor for many years. This year when I went to have lunch on Wed. I was told I needed a ticket as I only had a floor pass. When I asked where I should get this ticket no one knew.  

I passed on lunch and on the way out told the staff at the desk that if a ticket was necessary for lunch someone should have told me when I registered. They said they could sell me a ticket but did not seem too upset about the oversight.  I might add that the desk was a great distance from the floor of the convention.

I will not return to this show and I would think I am just the kind of participant those that rent booths would like to see

GregoryM 12-12-2008 5:12 PM

The whole industry needs to take a giant step towards reality.

Search engines are and have always been barking at the shadows, not the "real thing within the real world." The whole concept of SEO or spiders or any other name for rankings as it has been defined has become a make believe, made up process all along.

The only way you should get a true higher ranking is by rating the true "salability-relevance" of a product or service website, not by the criteria currently being used.

For one example the concept of having more links as a measure of importance or relevance or salability of a website is total non-sense. It has nothing to do with how to sell a product by aiming at your market.

Most website links are not developed, they are bought, and we all know that. Most all of these make believe links are not for the good of the customer but only for the good of the IT industry.

Therefore it is only a benefit within the IT industry alone (thus supporting an inbreeding of scratching each others business); and not relevant to the real world customer. The methodology that has been "thunk up" by the persons in charge of designing SEO criteria, have always been thinking within their own sand box.

They have never truly looked at how something gets sold or how successful real life "demographic marketing" works.

I have been in the advertising and marketing industry from the ground up for over 40 years, much longer than most of the IT generation has been alive..

The only way to market anything is to aim at the precise "demographics" or target audience you are trying to sell to. Develop attractive attention grabbing graphics, writing to the point copy aimed at the specific audience and getting the buyer to buy is what should be the measure of ranking not throwing in ad words just to have them in the text so the spiders can see them.

Perhaps if it were possible, take the spiders out of the SEO equation all together and you would be better able to get a true rating of how a site works and rank it accordingly.

Is the site informing the target audience of your product, selling the bullet points that is meaningful to “how does this help me the customer”, and then asking for the sale is what should be the yard stick utilized to rank a site?

If SEO was based more on target market advertising principals gearing SEO rankings on the "real world" of real people who buy stuff, and not on the convoluted algorithms or the daily changing whims of IT personal then we would be in a more true mode of operating and able to benefit the buying public.

Many times I have reviewed a particular business's website and it will have everything which should be considered and every aspect and graphic and detail that should make it a "selling" site. I ask the business owner what their results have been for submitting it and success of marketing on search engines. Almost always they say they cannot get a high enough ranking to make it worthy of the expense or effort.

Though other sites I find on the search engines’ specific ad word hierarchy are not what should be there at all. They have managed to fool the spiders or have bought their place on the top shelf.

For example some of the sites in top ranking positions are not sales sites at all; they are merely lead generation sites taking up space over and above a site that truly offers a service or items for sale.

These lead generation sites should be found out and not allowed to be within the same market place as a site that actually sells something.

The poor client that lands on those sites hoping to be able to be shown and buy what he did the search for in the beginning, is now going to get called by a horde of salesmen all vying his business. His information is sold over and over and over again.

Now he gets pushed and shoved by lies and half truths, and inundated by calls to the point that he now doesn’t ever want to have anything to do with the land internet marketing again.

Why do these sites get the attention over and above a real sales site?

Why? It is because the higher rankings are going to sites that have or can afford a whole bunch of garbage attached or within their site that allows them to get a "higher SEO" ranking. That is the only reason. These sites are not being ranked by true “relevance” to the customers’ unique profile or request.

Most of the time they have a clutter of stuff that accounts for good rankings but in truth it prevents the potential buyer from being able to get to the point of buying what he went on the site to buy in the first place.

The industry has been pirated by "good intention" to rank, but has missed their intention to get the buyers and the sellers connected.

It would be really nice to have a mode of thinking and SEO operation shift to "relevant demographic marketing" and subsequent SEO higher rankings; and then the products and services which are aimed toward a real life buyer would all benefit.

The industry needs to totally throw out what has been developed and perceived as SEO techniques and practices up to date and exercise standards of language, develop a dialogue that has and always has been based upon the demographics of a audience. Then sites that captivates and generates the interest of the exact clientele your product is aimed at would all benefit.

Sorry all you guys who have made a killing at “stealing” from a business owners marketing budget. You tried to help their site get higher rankings by being supposedly savvy on how the old “make believe” world of SEO worked, most often to find it was changed daily by the whimsical willy nilly of  a search engines “engineer”?

If the SEO rankings were based upon real life measurable of principals of demographic marketing, then there wouldn’t be this slide of hand non- descript fight to get a higher ranking.

Well, it’s time to go back to school, and learn how demographic marketing really works.

Because as I see it, the industry cannot be based upon a lie any more, sooner or later you have to sell by what really works, demographic niche marketing.

It’s past time to revamp the whole SEO strategy and criteria.

PeteS 12-12-2008 11:43 PM

Finally, somebody that speaks the truth about SEO, about time. What we now need is a consultancy group, with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, consumer groups and marketing professionals, to agree the next generation of search results criteria.

An example would be every website must be registered at something like ICANN and the demographics of the site, content and target would be listed and a meta tag code, like <meta name="verify-v1" <meta name="msvalidate.01" would be issued.  One code for all search companies.

Search results would then scan this code first, before supplying suitable links.

Do you have any ideas how to make searching better?

Pete, based in Bavaria and online since 1996.

BernieB 12-15-2008 7:46 AM

SEO as we know it is definitely not dead.  But, it certainly is evolving.  Google has made it known that it is starting to score a website for more variables than in the past.  Rich media and interactive aspects of a website are more important than before.

Reaching your customers in various places on the web is more important.  Relying on the big three search engines is very limiting.  

This is why I believe SEO is becoming SMO.  I blogged about it here:

TerryM 12-15-2008 8:01 AM

1. I've  used the Internet since its beginnings.

2. Every year, I find less and less information that I actually want.  I find the same information on a million pages, but it is very hard to get past basic level general data. You now have to pay for good information (subscribe). I still find myself going to the library.

3. Yes, I do buy things on the internet, but that is not all I do!  In fact, it is not even primarily what I do.

4. I am learning to make better use of boolean search terms, which helps.

5. I don't quit on the first few pages of a search.  I may go thru 10-20 pages or jump by 8-10 pages at a time to see if the sites change to more of what I am actually looking for. I change my search terms.  I get out the phone book. I go to the library.  I ask people questions.

6. Of course, if my college-educated kids can't find it on the internet, it doesn't exist.  But then, their social networking points them to places I wouldn't think of looking.

So my thought is you are all wrong and all right at the same time! But that none of you are looking at the whole.  I don't think there is a single right way or a single solution to marketing on the internet. Personally, I'd like less sales--I am really tired of the assault on my pocketbook! (Junk mail, phone calls, TV ads, flyers under my windshield, phony coupons, grocery coupons for things I don't buy, wide-broadcast faxes, spam, Google ads-I ignore them all and resent the time they consume anyway) I much prefer to find what I want when I am ready to purchase it.  Let me come to you!

EdwardC 12-15-2008 10:17 AM

Interesting observation; however, data obtained from one conference/convention is not enough to inform your opinion about the "End of SEO".

Purple Widget 12-15-2008 11:43 AM

As long as there are search engines there will be search engine optimization.  What might be dead is the definition of search engine optimization and since there are nearly as many definitions of SEO as there are people claiming to be SEO's I'm not sure what has, or will die.  I think the thought of an evolving definition is much more accurate.

John Fitzsimmons 12-16-2008 10:51 AM

The point of the article is along the lines of what BernieB said,

"SEO as we know it is definitely not dead.  But, it certainly is evolving."

Thus why the article says, SEO "'as we know it" is dead.

It's no longer just about links, content, and indexibility. Sure, those will remain factors but now we need to also think about how long people stay on the site, bounce rate, conversion rates, conversations, multimedia, etc.

We are heading toward a day when you can't artificially make a site look important to the search engines... it will truly need to be important to the users. So SEO's are evolving to become usability experts, multimedia experts, business consultants, and even psychologists to a degree.

SEO isn't dead... but it's sure evolving beyond simple on-site and off-site factors.

ChrisB 12-18-2008 1:20 AM

I was a speaker at SES Chicago last week, and I can't quite relate to this writer's article - I know there's a steady shift to social networking and what have you, but SEO is a LONG way from dead - some of us are just getting started, and for those of us with long tails and niche markets, I'm not sure there's an Internet economy without the search engines - I mean, it's cool to get stuff cheap/free, but the well's just gonna dry up if the money does.

Maybe I misunderstood the writer's intent, but I didn't take anything like this away from the SES Chicago presentations.

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