This article has been ranked #1 on all of Forbes and has “rankled” thousands of people. There have been industry experts rise up in defense and offense to what was said here. At last count 525 comments have been made. We stirred a hornets nest. In the end I modified some of my thesis, but stuck stronger than ever to other parts of it. When you are done you may want to read these comments, Death of SEO (Part 2), and this final link also “My Final Comment on my ‘Death of SEO’ article on Forbes” – Ken
I had lunch back in March with Adam Torkildson, one of the top SEO consultants in Utah and one of the best in the country.
Adam Torkildson, SEO guru, predicts the death of SEO as we know it
Adam Torkildson, SEO guru, says Google is killing the SEO industry (as we know it)
He said something to me that blew me away. “Google GOOG -1.17%is in the process of making the SEO industry obsolete, SEO will be dead in 2 years.”
I posted his statement on my blog and immediately received a flurry of comments; many from his colleagues in the SEO industry who wanted to:
Weigh in on my statement that Adam is great (or crazy)
Accuse me of writing a title for “link bait”
Declare how absurd Adam’s assertion was
Agree and prophecize their vision for the future
I have often used the (recently re-proven) phrase from the bomber pilots in World War II,
“The flak only gets heavy when you’re over the target.”
Adam’s explanation about his claim made a lot of sense. I’ll quickly summarize and add some background information.
“SEO” means Search Engine Optimization.
There is internal and external SEO. Internal makes up about 15% of the process (I’m told it may be much higher now) and it means to design your site so it follows the best practices proven to rank high on Google. External SEO used to mean to write articles, press releases, blogs, comments, and content with embedded keyword “backlinks” to your site. Now it is changing fast to include social media strategies.
SEO has been traditionally divided into “white hat” or “black hat.” Black Hat is the obvious villainous practice of gaming the system by doing things to raise rankings that Google doesn’t want, and White Hat is just more subtle.
But what does Google want? They want relevant, real content on the internet that people want to read and tell other people about. If Google doesn’t bring you the most relevant content when you search they aren’t doing their job.
So by definition even the word Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means to “game” the Google search engines (and others) to get your valuable content ranked higher than it would be if left alone to the forces of the Web.
Google proved Adam right one month later (to the day) with the “Penguin release” that is a code name for the algorithm that decreased search engine rankings of companies who were using schemes to artificially increase their rankings. Google decided to change the weight of their emphasis from just “backlinks” more and more towards social media likes, shares, tweets, reddits, and 1+ (Googles obvious favorite.) In the world of digital media the emphasis is on follows, comments, and views as well.
What does that mean?
Google used to think if you linked to someone on the Internet they must have valuable content. Now Google seems to believe that if you promote content with social media it is more indicative of relevant content and less likely to be faked. Though many point out social can be faked as well.
The bottom line is that all external SEO efforts are counterfeit other than one:
Writing, designing, recording, or videoing real and relevant content that benefits those who search.
If you generate content and place it all over the web promoting and linking to your specific content, it is obviously fake. (And that is basically a big part of the history of the SEO industry, both black and white.)
And hey, I’ve done it myself. That is how I met Adam in the first place.
It is the overly aggressive marketers that always spoil it for everyone. Mmmm, let’s see… false advertisers, telemarketing at dinner time with predictive dialers, unsolicited faxing, email spamming, now SEO.
Cover of “All Marketers Are Liars: The Po…
Cover via Amazon
It was Seth Godin that said “all marketers are liars,” I’m a marketer, so I can say this. I think it means that if you have to advertise a lot to change perceptions, it’s probably being “spun.” Think media, the lack of advertising on fruit and vegetables, and the current presidential race.
Adam told me that it is hardly about the links anymore, it’s about the metrics of engagement on your site.
It’s about social “shares”, and you can’t fake that (easily). Now with recent policy changes, Google knows who everyone is once they open themselves up on the social realm. They will be able to tell the fake people. Facebook FB +0% already knows. Adam did a test by creating 1000 fake accounts a year ago, but today they have all been banned.
I asked him how they figured it out, he said “I’m pretty smart, but I have no idea. That’s why they hire PhD’s! That’s why Google bought Twitter’s data. They failed to get Facebook data, but they rely on Facebook’s internal API. Now social signals are a much bigger part of the Google algorithm.” He continued, “I’ve already seen them using it, I know.”
So what do we do?
Adam grinned with resignation, “It’s the Hubspot strategy of great blog content with a massive opt-in audience of social followers. It’s your InsideSales.com approach with strong industry research that people follow. And it’s old-school PR. PR has made a full-on 180 degree swing. I started in PR as a major. Now it is the ultimate, because it is about who you actually, really, know. It’s the buzz you create. And how much value you provide your community of followers in return.”
“So great content is king, and communities of avid followers make the king? And my friend Cheryl, of SnappConner PR will rule the world?”
“Yes, basically.” Adam went on, “Dell does a really good job. They have 1M followers on just one account in Twitter. Their team answers all direct messages from their community, and stays on top of their brand and reputation.”
I asked, “So how has this affected you?”
“We hardly do any of the old SEO stuff. It still brings results, but not like it used to. Google is pulling the rug out to provide better search for their audience. They are routing out the counterfeiters. Now it must be real, valuable, content, and lots of community value and interaction.”
So how does it affect entrepreneurs and business executives?
Invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants. Grow your internal thought leaders to where they can add value to your audience and positioning in the market. Follow internal SEO practices to make sure it is found and sees the light of day. Take the time to make it so compelling that people talk about it and share it.
Look to real social media community support, compelling PR, and real content; for that is where true SEO practitioners are turning more and more also.
Common sense, but not common practice.
(After 300+ comments from some SEO professionals and not-so professionals, I have tightened up my thesis, but I’m still of the same opinion. Here are my final comments on this topic for a while. And here is a link to Part 2 of the Death of SEO discussion. I was interviewed by The Pulse on the incredible response and comments from this article that ranked Most Popular BPOP +0.51% on Forbes for nearly 4 days – Ken)
Author: Ken Krogue