Say goodbye to SEO.
The now-conventional strategy of harnessing links and keywords to climb higher in search results has been fading for a while. Social media emerged as an alternative referral source. Google tweaked its quality signals to reduce the impact of strategies that manipulate search results.
But this week Google sent SEO as we know it into terminal decline, rolling out personal search results that are strongly shaped by each user’s online friends and social networking history.
Here’s what this means to a news website. Say you’ve just published a preview of this year’s Super Bowl ads, and of course you want people to find it when they do a related Google search:
- In the old search model, you pack the headline with keywords like “Super Bowl ads 2012″ so everyone searching Google for that phrase sees your story. A simple, one-size-fits-all solution.
- In the new model, Andy’s search results will feature that story if his friend Bill previously shared or promoted it. But Chris’ results could instead highlight a different story that his friend Dave shared.
That’s a very simple example; Google’s Matt Cutts shares a real one on his blog.
For now, search results are affected only by social activity on Google’s own social network. But Google seems interested in adding Twitter, which has complained about being left out, and Facebook, which so far has worked exclusively with Bing.
The point for news organizations and journalists is that it’s more important than ever to build strong social followings and to optimize content for sharing. Social media is becoming an engine that drives more than just Facebook and Twitter’s own referrals.
These networks hold data and virtual machinery powering other forms of discovery like Google’s personal search results, as well as new curation apps like Nine Connections and mobile apps like Flipboard’s “cover stories” and Zite.
News organizations with strong social media operations will see their content also flourish in search and mobile. Those that ignore social media will become isolated, invisible and irrelevant to growing segments of digital audience.