SEO is a method; a practice if you will. When a company has an online presence to sell product(s) or provide information for a service or facility offline, SEO is a marketing tool that is often invested in to bring this online presence to the attention of potential customers who are unaware of your service or your brand.
With the emergence of social media and the uptake of social network integration into the most popular websites in the world (thus making them popular in themselves) it is of no surprise that people who err on the side of social marketing have said “SEO is Dead!”. Unfortunately this statement (which rears its head every other year or so) is completely off the mark (in my opinion).
Much like search engine optimisation, social media marketing is a marketing tool. They often crossover and complement each other, but they are by no means the ultimate solution in their own right. As an online marketing consultant, I am often asked if I think search engine optimisation will die out once media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter etc provide their own information in such an accessible way there will be no need to search. When put like that I say “NO”, purely because SEO adapts to change and challenges and has adapted since day one.
Unfortunately the “SEO is Dead” calls gather momentum, especially when delivered in such a dramatic and sensationalistic way. A recent article by Jon Holloway recently caught my attention – not because of the attention grabbing headline – but because of the sheer narrow-minded viewpoint.
According to Jon (a former SEO by his own admission), he believes SEO is dead purely because users now act in such a way that sales are driven through customer referrals, peer recommendation and 1-to-1 relationships (in his own opinion he later said). I agree that the way a user behaves when buying online has changed, but unfortunately the system works both ways. If a user does not like your brand or your service you will not get the recommendation and ultimately the conversion. Relying on a system that is open to manipulation (much like SEO) is very narrow-minded.
Fortunately, the method of SEO is to introduce new users who are unaware of your brand through a third party service for the very first time without the opinionated viewpoint of a person and their bias. If the brand or customer service is shoddy that will tell in the long-term due toEveryday Joe’s user-reach through social platforms, but with regards to attracting new business you will receive the benefit of the doubt with SEO.
If you were to approach any business with a brand that is either very niche, or very new, and succesfully combines social media marketing and search engine optimisation as part of their marketing campaign and asked them if they thought SEO is dead, I would hazard a guess and say that the majority of them would say hands down that their SEO campaign (through constant target re-evaluation, investment and feedback) has driven more new visitors, more new customers and ultimately more new business to their websites. The reason for this would be due to their new found reach through thousands of keywords and phrases that exposes them to new customers who don’t know the difference between Company A and Company B, but wanted to actually find an item that could be purchased online.
Thankfully, for most small business, SEO also gives them the opportunity to compete against the big brands who are making the most of their dominance and cornering the market. It might not draw as much business for the smaller firms, but it certainly allows them a foot on the ladder to grow larger and compete long-term.
Whilst it may be seen as if I am taking this slightly out of context from Jon’s article, he mentioned “forget about search engines”. Personally, I think that is a stupid and narrow-minded thing to say!
Without brand affiliation, how do you propose people will find your website? Do you honestly think that social platforms will introduce enough users to a website to make it sustainable?
Whilst social media, targeted marketing through advertising on social networks and – ultimately – brand awareness campaigns can garner interest in your brand, you will be left to starve if you do not attract users who don’t give two flying f*cks about brand affiliation or are simply turned off by the force-fed intimidation of service reaction on Twitter. I sometimes feel that I am being followed around the socialsphere by salesmen who are waiting to make a connection with me – much like the car insurance salesman at the local shopping centre. I’m there to do one thing and that is not buy car insurance!
If you forget about search engines, where are you going to interact with users? Facebook? Twitter? Industry blogs? I would boldly say that this is simply a case of moving your eggs from one basket and into another. The trick is to integrate and dominate. Cross-promote and interact. To rely on communication with users on a handful of websites is not only a dumb move, but also suicidal for a business’s future.
I agree that SEO cannot solve every businesses problems; it comes down to the aim of the business and what its aims are. I do still stand by my argument that without search engine optimisation or a hefty advertising budget to advertise online or offline you will simply not get in front of new customers!
However, with search engines continuing to be the #1 source of answers to queries – ranging from where to buy a holiday to the method of changing a spark plug in a 1979 Ford Cortina – there are many opportunities to get your business in front of new users through SEO. Whether you concentrate on sales, information consumption or brand awareness SEO can – and does – work for millions of businesses worldwide.
SEO is, after all, a form of manipulation, but with all forms of business there are people with good intentions and people with bad intentions involved and this has caused SEO to gain a bad reputation – likewise with social marketing. With the introduction of social interaction online came with it instant news and instant information. This also made online reputation management and Negative PR services another set of tools that an SEO can offer – another form of evolution and innovation to a new problem.
Despite the need for it to still be there, if Google decided to go Pay-Per-Search then SEO would most certainly suffer, but in the same breath so would brand exposure; the same could be said if the social networking websites shut up shop. This is why SEO will never die. There is always innovation and a new avenue to target and promote your brand. Search engine optimisation gets the users to your door just as well as a good social referral; great website design, user experience and ease-of-use will assist in converting that user to a customer whether you are a big brand or not!