Will Social Media be the Death of SEO?
“Is the end of SEO nigh?”
To say that the question is at the forefront of the minds of several SEO mavens would be an understatement. The ever-rising popularity of various social media channels (read Facebook and Twitter) and the resultant flurry of activities (read real-time search) happening there have, evidently, been causes for concern for many in the search business (Google included). Many of them don’t just raise the question; they are convinced that there is no light at the end of the tunnel for SEO, and that the SEO-Armageddon is upon them!
SEO Vs. SMO: What They Say?
This undeclared war between search and social media has the grapevine rife with rumors – that Facebook is all set to vanquish Google, that Twitter is already beating the search engines at their own game, and here’s the whopper, real-time search on social media has all but replaced the traditional and ‘slow’ search engines!
Since I just don’t see the SEO-beast rolling over and playing dead (Google.com is the most visited site on the web), I am not holding my breath. A bunch of over-zealous early-adopters and a few million users thundering towards the latest social media sites may cause it to break out in sweat (by their own admission, Google had been a tad complacent, and hadn’t really anticipated the developments at Facebook and Twitter) but kill it? I don’t think so.
Yes, things may look a little worrisome, the as-yet-undisclosed search aspirations of Facebook, who is practically nipping at Google’s heels in the race for web domination (Facebook clocked 2.6 billion visitors in November, falling short of Google’s traffic volume by just 35 million) and the almost unanticipated success and as-yet-untapped potential of Twitter Search (which has seen a 477.25% increase in unique visitors in the last one year, as opposed to Google’s 11.77%) appear to paint a pretty bleak SEO-picture. But, can Facebook and Twitter push the behemoth Google out of the picture? Will they prove to be the fabled Google-killers? Let’s be real people, Google’s an old hand at search, no logic suggests that these search-wannabes can do what Microsoft and Yahoo together couldn’t achieve.
What Actually Is
I am not alone in my opinion that all the hype surrounding real-time search is preventing us from seeing the ‘real’ picture. Real-time search, more than anything else, is based on ‘freshness’ of content. And unfortunately, in real-time search, freshness often precludes relevance. Therefore, the search feature that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter offer is based largely on the ‘age’ of the content and user preference, and seldom, if ever, relevance. Yes, I’d probably see my friends and zillion other Twitter or Facebook users talk about guacamole, but would I finally learn that it is actually a Mexican-dip and not a single-celled animal like I’d originally thought it was? Probably not.
My intention is not to dismiss all the virtues that real-time search may possess. I happen to agree with the experts, that when it comes to gauging user reaction and preferences, real-time search is a handy tool to have. But, for all its ability to make search ‘fresh’, real-time search is just far too vulnerable to spam.
Twitter Search is already plagued by spam issues; it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that the same fate can befall the other engines. If they can’t successfully weed out the spammy ‘noise’ and throw up clean ‘signals’, real-time search will barely outlive the hype it enjoys right now.
Relevance! Thereupon lies the secret to the continuing life of search engines, and therefore, of SEO. Search engines aren’t just gateways to the enormous amount of information available on the Internet, they are essentially watchdogs of quality on the net, they ensure that when someone uses search, only the most relevant and ‘clean’ content reaches them.
This reason alone will ensure that these users continue to use the traditional form of search, even if they dabble in some real-time search for kicks.
In light of all this, doesn’t the question of real-time search replacing traditional search appear rather irrelevant? Also, can you seriously imagine the Internet without Google?
The web has constantly evolved – from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, with the digerati now eagerly waiting for the third avatar – and with it, search has evolved as well. It is not amiss to suggest that what we have now is an evolving searchscape, and that the real-time search ‘threat’ posed by social media sites appears to have accelerated this round of its evolutionary process.
We’ll soon see real-time search factors integrated into the traditional search algorithms. The Bing-Twitter deal and Google’s move to show real-time content from Facebook and Myspace in search results are just an indication of how things will be. Twitter’s topic trending feature is unmatched by anything on the Internet today, and has its finger on the pulse of everything current. Search engines have already taken note of this and there is even talk that it could significantly impact ranking.
It’s safe to say that these developments will add more dimensions and depth to search. Search will be faster (it has no choice but be) and social graph metrics will find their way into the algorithm, if they haven’t already. Google has already rolled-out Social Search, that allows you to “find more relevant public content from your broader social circle” and they are all set to give their search engine a jolt of Caffeine and make it faster and better than ever before. Far from things dying, I see the birth of a new search era (and the search junkie in me rejoices).
What Will Finally Happen
An evolving, multifaceted searchscape, quite naturally, will necessitate a thorough SEO overhaul. Change in algorithms will certainly mean change in SEO practices as well. The current search scene, where social media has increasing relevance, demands that Social Media Optimization (SMO) have a bigger role than before in SEO (but not replace it entirely, as some fear). This is not really surprising, as it was understood, even before real-time search, that SEO and social media would lead a close existence – experts have always maintained that one could be used to better the other. The best results are achieved when SEO is done in conjunction with SMO – because, though social media may not be very helpful for building crawlable links, it helps build authority (oh, does it ever!), and with authority, SEO is as easy as pie, well almost.
Try building links using old-school methods like Directory Submission (because nothing works like the old-school methods, when it comes to building crawlable links) and increase and improve your social-media presence by engaging in social bookmarking and being active on social sites like Digg and Stumbleupon, and see if it doesn’t work wonders for your site!
Coming back to the original question, the doomsayers may be partially right after all, the end of SEO as we know it may be near, but you can rest assured that a newer, and more robust version is waiting to take the baton and run with it!