Social media replacing SEO as Google makes search results personal

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.

Google's personal search results feature pages, photos and other results shared by friends on social networks.

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.

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  • Privatdetektiv

    I really like this way of searching because you can get exactly what you are looking for.

  • http://twitter.com/portentint Ian Lurie

    So, why couldn’t you write “SEO as we know it will not be enough by itself” in your article?

  • http://twitter.com/portentint Ian Lurie

    Jeff, next time you write about internet marketing, I recommend talking to a marketer first.

  • http://www.personalinjurydefenders.com/ Spinal Cord Injury Attorneys

    The personal search result comes whenever you log-in to your Google account. But it will definitely be another thing whenever you log-out your account in Gmail. You will see the organic result, that usually made by SEO.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the previous commentator. In addition, innovations in Google is not happy lately. But recently found an excellent search engine for rapidshare. This is http://www.usemeplz.com. I like it. Quickly looking, has a simple design, easy to use.

  • privatdetektiv

    I Think google and other search engine should do something about this, like in google you can separate blog, Forums and many more just like that they need to add two more option “Site”, “Social Networks” and the search must be done after choosing a category from it.

  • privatdetektiv

    I Think google and other search engine should do something about this, like in google you can separate blog, Forums and many more just like that they need to add two more option “Site”, “Social Networks” and the search must be done after choosing a category from it.

  • http://www.headshotlondon.co.uk/editorial_photographers/ Headshot London

    Interesting article. I think if the search is dead then noone would bother to comply to quality guidelines and just add people to their networks.Anyway, I guess will see where it is all going:-) Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.webstatsart.com/ Webstats Art

    Oh yeah! SEO is dead! Why is it then that all those Indian SEO’s are on Google+? Why are they offering services to increase your web presence by Google+ account management? Come on folks! The SEO business is a multi billion dollar underground industry that always adapts to change. Does internet history not teach this?

  • Anonymous

    Interesting read. Thanks!

  • http://www.specialimages.co.uk/blog/ Corporate photographer

    I remember the same thing being said when Google Realtime was introduced. 

  • http://twitter.com/jmloquist Jeff Loquist

    I feel that by saying “SEO is dead” or, here: “Say goodbye to SEO” confines it into a tight ball and possibly feeds into what some people think SEO is, the manipulation of websites. SEO is an ever-changing and all-encompasing field that

  • http://twitter.com/aoscruggs aoscruggs

    What ramifications does this development have for independent journalists like me? I depend on SEO to help readers find my blog posts because my social media network is still growing.

  • Anonymous

    Heh. There’s an old saying that “you’re known by the company you keep.” I agree that could be an issue, and it would be nice to evolve some controls or signals about *which* friends’ activity is most significant. But at least this issue is somewhat within the user’s control.

  • Anonymous

    Good points, Aaron. Thanks for contributing.

  • Anonymous

    Good points, Aaron. Thanks for contributing.

  • Ryan Oelke

    Totally agree

  • http://searchmarketingwisdom.com alanbleiweiss

    Another bogus claim article that the author then backtracks on in the comments.  The article claims SEO is dead, being REPLACED by social.  Then the backtrack in the comments changes the tune.  Seriously.  Make a claim and stick to it or stop writing articles until you can be clear on what you mean.

  • David Cohen

    A big part of SEO is about building relationships, online and offline. I don’t see that going away, but only growing in importance based on the personalized SERPs. SEOs who build legit relationships with influencers on Google+ should do just fine keeping their jobs. 

  • http://www.seoskeptic.com/ Aaron Bradley

    Ah, if I had a nickel for every time someone said “SEO is dead” (and while I appreciate the nuance when you say Google has “sent SEO as we know it into terminal decline,” your argument falls broadly into that category)….

    SEO really hasn’t been about keywords since 1998, when PageRank was introduced.  Links then began to become fundamentally important for website rankings in the search engines, and continue to be so until this day.  Links are the precursor to social engagement as a ranking signal insofar as they are like “votes” for a website; today’s social connections are a more personalized version of that (not just votes for a resource, but votes for a resource from people you know, and just might trust).  Socially-integrated search doesn’t obviate the need to optimize resources for search any more than did the invention of PageRank. 

    Sure, keywords were and continue to be important – and will continue to be important, regardless of what Google or anyone else does in terms of integrating social recommendations and your social connections into search.  In fact just the use of the term “keyword” muddies the point with needless jargon.  Search engines can’t operate without words, period.  If your headline isn’t “packed” with words “Super Bowl” but instead talks only of the “Big Game” Google will certainly have difficulty identifying and returning that particular post, regardless of how many of your friends recommend it.  (Interestingly enough, I did a fair amount of successful optimization for “Super Bowl”-related terms in the mid 2000s – and that success wasn’t predicated at all on keyword stuffing, which is an utterly useless SEO tactic for any competitive term, but on building links).

    While the comment may have been made tongue-in-cheek, @twitter-16090288:disqus makes a good point.  There comes a point where social integration becomes an impediment for actual information discovery, as I’ve little doubt the search engines know.  If your query is for “us constitution date” does it make sense to return your Facebook buddy’s answer of 1776 first, even though Wikipedia and every other reputable information source (judging that reputation by inbound links and aggregate social activity) will tell you it was signed in 1787?

    All of this is not to say that social signals aren’t important for search results (these days, most SEOs consider them *part* of SEO), but that they don’t obviate the need for “traditional” SEO, or radically devalue the benefit of those SEO efforts:  ensuring resources are readily indexable and crawlable, building relevant links from relevant locations and, yes, ensuring publishers are describing those resources in with words that people are liable to use when searching for them.

  • http://twitter.com/jchasin josh chasin

    What if your friends are a bunch of idiots?

  • Anonymous

    I think your last line sums it up.  Recently, I read an analogy of being in the center of a packed room with great conversation, lots of energy but you are completely invisible to everybody around you.   

  • Anonymous

    That’s true. Really what I’m saying here is that SEO as we know it will not be enough by itself. It’s not that journalists should stop caring about using the right keywords and such, but that won’t be enough anymore to game your way atop results unless the social engagement is there too.

  • http://bydanielvictor.com Daniel Victor

    I’m not sure this de-emphasizes keywords. For example, I posted a link to a Jon Huntsman story and had my friend do a search for “Jon Huntsman.” Even though our story wouldn’t sniff the first page otherwise, it was there for her.

    So for news organizations that wouldn’t usually make it to page one, don’t they now have more reason to pack keywords in? She wouldn’t have found it with a “Jon Huntsman” search if we had instead put “GOP candidate” in the headline. 

  • http://bydanielvictor.com Daniel Victor

    I’m not sure this de-emphasizes keywords. For example, I posted a link to a Jon Huntsman story and had my friend do a search for “Jon Huntsman.” Even though our story wouldn’t sniff the first page otherwise, it was there for her.

    So for news organizations that wouldn’t usually make it to page one, don’t they now have more reason to pack keywords in? She wouldn’t have found it with a “Jon Huntsman” search if we had instead put “GOP candidate” in the headline. 

  • http://bydanielvictor.com Daniel Victor

    I’m not sure this de-emphasizes keywords. For example, I posted a link to a Jon Huntsman story and had my friend do a search for “Jon Huntsman.” Even though our story wouldn’t sniff the first page otherwise, it was there for her.

    So for news organizations that wouldn’t usually make it to page one, don’t they now have more reason to pack keywords in? She wouldn’t have found it with a “Jon Huntsman” search if we had instead put “GOP candidate” in the headline.